With free learner’s and driver’s licence classes on offer, more than 500 women from Tafelsig filled the Tafelsig Community Centre in Olifantshoek Street on Thursday last week, eager to take the first step toward independence.Joanie Fredericks, founder of community organisation Nead and the Mitchell’s Plain Impact Association (MPIA), says people are seeing the benefits of empowering themselves.“We want to empower an entire province and the women here will be empowered. This is not at all an anti-men initiative – we would just like to level the playing field,” she says. “They say there is no discrimination in the workplace, but men are getting more opportunities because they more often have a driver’s licence. It is common that when there is only money for one person to get their licence, it will be the man first, so we want to help create opportunities.”This is a joint initiative between Nead, MPIA and Jameelah Liedeman.Liedeman, a former driving instructor for Golden Arrow, says that for many years it has been her desire to start an initiative to help empower women. When she met Fredericks in December, she shared her vision with her and Fredericks in turn helped her make it possible.“This has been my plan for a number of years, but I was permanently employed and couldn’t do it at the time. When I met Joanie I told her I wanted to empower women. I have been blessed with an amazing career and I feel that I want to give back because driving schools are expensive,” she says.Liedeman does not own a driving school, but has spent many years training bus drivers for both Golden Arrow and MyCiTi.“I started training in 2006 and was the first female driving instructor in the history of Golden Arrow,” she says.Through the project the women receive free learner’s classes and driving lessons with Liedeman, facilitated through Nead and MPIA.“This initiative is important because we know the absolute devastation that sexual violence and other forms of violence bring into people’s lives, and this is part of the restoration of the whole human being,” says Fredericks.She says there has been a great response from residents who are extremely grateful for the opportunity to gain independence and freedom.“A woman told me that this has given her a new lease on life and she has not even attended her first class yet. It is just the thought of being able to have a licence. Women are often fortunate to own a car, but still have to find someone else to drive them around. Women must have the freedom to do as they please, go where they want, and be able to drive themselves there as well,” she says. “Empowerment doesn’t mean anything if you as a woman cannot decide where you want to go, when you want to go.”The project has attracted both young and old.Ruwayda Clarke (18) says independence is important for all women.“This is a great opportunity for us to get our licences and not have to depend on the men in our lives to take us where we want to go,” she says. “Women must be empowered to be independent and move forward, making something of themselves. To be independent is one of the greatest things in life, and a woman must stand up and do what she needs to do.”Another participant, Olivia Saunders (29), says she has been trying to get her licence for many years but is determined to make it happen.“I can’t even count the number of times I have tried for my licence. I have been looking for help and now I have the opportunity because of this amazing initiative. These Tafelsig women are seeing that there is help for us and that is why they are all here and I appreciate their help so much. Women need to stand up for their rights. Abuse must be cut down, and being independent is the start of that,” she says. One woman who is greatly inspiring the other participants is Shamielah Abdullah, a 62-year-old great-grandmother.“You are never too old to learn. I have all the illnesses in the book but they are all well managed and if I am empowered, I can drive my grandchildren to school if I need to. I have never tried to get my licence before, but why not? I just feel I need to be independent. What is the use of being healthy and being on my own? I want to be able to get around on my own. A woman who can drive has the world at her feet and it has nothing to do with age,” she says.Abdullah plans to get her licence on her first attempt. Fredericks hopes the initiative will enable employment opportunities for the women as well.“These days, most employers require a driver’s licence, even for the most humble job,” she says.Liedeman hopes the initiative will help inspire women to come out of their shells and aspire to do more. Coming from a male-dominated workplace, she further encourages the women to not shy away from what are considered to be male-dominated jobs.Liedeman says this is why she is passionate about training.“I would often see people looking for employment and they would need to be turned away because they don’t have driving skills,” she says.Liedeman adds that having a driver’s licence is not enough these days.“My training style is to not only prepare the participants for the traffic department. They must be able to drive anywhere and everywhere,” she says.“If you look at the carnage on the roads, so many people die on the roads because they are not trained to handle traffic and normal driving. They have a licence but don’t know the rules of driving. I want to train them to know how to drive anywhere, so that we can also have safer roads,” she tells People’s Post.Both Fredericks and Liedeman say there is a major need for this initiative and both are overwhelmed by the great response.This is the pilot project and their hope is to further extend it to other areas as the need arises.Liedeman wants to further empower women from this group to assist her in giving learner’s classes when the project is rolled out to other areas.