When The Deputy Executive Director of UN Women Gets In

After deciding to get myself a car, I was certain that I would find a distinct type of adventure while Ubering throughout the city. As I started the process, which took about eight weeks, I daydreamed about the variety of clients that would get into my car to get from point A to point B. I figured on some days I would be in the vicinity of the United Nations, and inevitably receiving a request for pickup from a diplomat, we’d talk Human Rights and Sustainable Development Goals while driving down 2nd Avenue. Given my recent course of study in International Affairs at The New School – Milano, SDGs and global flows were frequent topics of discussion. Well, that very daydream actually unfolded in early September when the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Lakshmi Puri, got into MY car!

Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women - AFP Photo, courtesy of Hindu Times.
Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women – AFP Photo, courtesy of Hindu Times.

With a warm disposition, she explained that she normally enjoys the walk to the UN, but with the rainy weather, Uber was the better option. We had quite the in depth conversation that started with her asking about my decision to drive with Uber. Considering all of her years of using car service around the world, at that point she had only had one other woman driver, I think in India. She was quite intrigued to hear that in the spring I had watched a video on Uber’s website announcing their support of UN Women’s Step It Up for Gender Equality initiative: “We intend to invest in long-term programs in local communities where we live and work, as Uber commits to creating 1,000,000 jobs for women globally on the Uber platform by 2020.” In the video three women from Nairobi, London and Bogotá described the value of independence and entrepreneurship, which ultimately creates the most empowering environment as a professional earning income.

Ms. Puri was surprised to hear that the campaign had contributed to my decision to drive with Uber, and I was equally surprised to hear that I had been the only woman driver she’d had in the States. It was she, however, who informed me during our ride that the collaboration between Uber and UN Women had been cancelled before the campaign ever got underway. I wasn’t aware that, shortly after I’d seen the video for the first time, there had been a backlash against the alliance due to [valid] concerns on the safety of women passengers and drivers worldwide. I did understand all too well, unfortunately, how cultural standards and traditional norms could prevent women from taking on a role as a professional driver in most parts of the world.

As Ms. Puri and I spoke, I mentioned that having recently completed a Masters in International Affairs, with a concentration in Media & Culture, many an assignment at Milano had focused on targets of the Millennium Development Goals, especially as they pertain to Gender Equality and the empowerment of girls and women. Since she was kind enough to ask with genuine interest why I choose to drive at this point in my life, I rattled off my reasons, which were on par with the women in the video: valuing independence and autonomy on my own professional terms, loving the timing factor of when I work, and daring to dream up the most creative life I could actually live. Plus, being a freelance writer, driving with Uber was the perfect way to supplement income between assignments. She completely understood my rationale, and, when she got out, expressed how impressed she was with the little I shared with her.

I hated that I didn’t have a card to give her, but I figured our paths will cross again at the appointed time as there may be some writing opportunity with UN Women in the future for which I am qualified. But she left me with these parting words:

I wish you much success in your pursuits, and may you ALWAYS be an inspiration to girls and women worldwide.

My heart soared as I watched her float away in her turquoise and fuchsia sari, waist-length hair flowing behind her! And I was glad to meet her acquaintance, and that I’m following my heart!


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