Scooty Girls: Gender, Mobility, & Intimacy at the Edge of the Kathmandu Valley

In the past decade, the dramatic increase of scooters in the Kathmandu Valley has transformed young, unmarried women’s mobility.  Prior to the recent explosion of scooters on the road, Nepali women (of the class that could afford a motorcycle but not a car) could be seen on the backs of motorcycles driven by husbands, brothers, boyfriends, male classmates, etc.  In a location where two-wheeled vehicles are the major form of transportation, scooters transform a woman’s place from the back of a motorbike to the driver’s seat – the driver’s seat of a scooter designed specifically for her “feminine” needs.  And in a social context in which most women were discouraged from leaving the house without a good reason to do so, the ability to drive oneself rather than call upon a male escort has pushed the gendered boundaries of acceptable behavior for young women outwards – metaphorically and literally.  This paper analyzes young women’s newfound mobility and their capacity to drive to peripheral, relatively remote areas of the valley that offer an escape from the bustle and pollution of the city, scenic views of the valley below, and something rarely achieved in the past – privacy.  I argue that scooters offer a way out of the policed realm of a young woman’s home and neighborhood, leading to exploration and a space for intimacy that previously did not exist.

Ethnos, Volume 79, Issue 5, Pages 610-629