12/17/2014 01:34 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2015

Women Driving Motorbikes

Elibariki is a consummate professional in Tanzania. He is the director of the office of an NGO and oversees a staff of four people who manage various types of projects. Two of the staff are women and he treats them the same and pays them the same as the two men.

But Eli, despite his formal education and three trips to the U.S., is still very conservative about male/female roles. In this, he reflects the rural Tanzanian culture. His wife is a schoolteacher and he treats her with respect. But at home, she does all the cooking and cleaning while he takes care of their cows, pigs and chickens. They share childcare responsibilities, but she does the feeding and cleaning while he plays with them.

Still, there are limits to his tolerance. During a drive to a training site, the U.S. team (two men and two women) began a discussion about the changing roles of women in the U.S. and the similar changes that will occur in Tanzania. Sheri said, "We are very proud of the work that Efrancia is doing as project manager and we are pleased that you treat her the same as the male project managers." He replied, "She is doing a good job and I respect her very much."

"Yes," Sheri continued. "Soon, Efra will have her own motorbike and will drive to the project sites. She won't have to rely on the bus or someone else to drive her to places." "Oh, no," Eli exclaimed. "That should not happen. Women should not drive cars and especially not motorbikes." A quick glance told us that Eli was not joking. He really meant this.

"But, really Eli," I said. "Don't you see that this is inevitable? As women are educated and empowered, they will want their freedom of movement. They will want to drive." "This is just wrong, "Eli said. "It is not the right thing for a woman. They are not strong enough and it would be improper for them to drive a motorbike because they are wearing dresses and skirts."

By now, we had arrived at the site where 30 women were receiving additional training as community health educators. They would soon be providing public health education programs in their communities and were well respected members of their villages.

After the opening greetings, Sheri said. "I have a question for all of you. If you had the chance to drive a motorbike to make your health education meetings, would you do it?"

"Yes," they chorused.

"But what about being improper in driving a motorbike dressed in skirts?" Sheri asked.

"We will wear jeans," one shouted. "Yes, we will wear jeans," the others exclaimed.

We looked at Eli and could see that he was struggling with this. "This will be a big change. But I will have to get used to it."

Sheri gave him a hug and said, "This is only the beginning, Eli. There will be more to get used to."

He smiled and shrugged.