By Harold Ayodo
She climbs into her Range Rover Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) and puts on designer sunglasses before turning on the ignition.
Patricia Wanjiru, 39, drives through the Elgeyo Marakwet Road in Nairobi’s upmarket Kilimani area before getting onto Ngong Road. It is just after 7.30am on a Tuesday.
Unfortunately, it is one of those days when traffic snarl-ups start early and matatus overlap without regard to road rules. A driver of a matatu hoots non-stop and attempts to overtake her on Argwings Kodhek Road but she ignores him.
Wanjiru rolls down her tinted window after the tout yells at her "auntie kaa kando tupite (stay aside we pass)".
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"Are you the only ones in a hurry? Learn to respect the road rules," Wanjiru shouts back and rolls up the window.
Undeterred, the unkempt tout hurls a heap of abuses to an unshaken Wanjiru before his parting shot — that a rich man had bought her the SUV.
Surprisingly, Wanjiru is among the emerging crop of professional women ditching the tiny Toyota Vitz and Starlets for fuel guzzlers.
For men, a car is a work of art, an expression of virility and a tool of seduction while for most women, the car is a vehicle that helps them get from one point to another in comfort.
Thus, when it comes to buying cars, women are more demanding customers as they consult widely before settling on one.
Ultimately, motor experts say men and women prefer fuel guzzlers to show status, financial astuteness and an enhanced self-image.
Society is slowly coming to terms with the reality that more women are importing five-door SUVs from their own purses.
For starters, a Range Rover Sport is a SUV produced by Land Rover. It is the fifth model since production of the Freelander in 1996.
"Even mechanics at respectable firms look at me inquisitively when I go for regular service as required by the manufacturer," Wanjiru says.
She was recently a crowd puller on Lang’ata Road when she pulled over near Nyayo Stadium and opened the bonnet over a mechanical problem.
"I realised everyone was wondering how I could fix whatever it was," she says, laughing.
Her story is similar to that of Shanice Mutiso, 40, who drives a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado (also called Lexus GX) from Karen through Lang’ata Road, Uhuru Highway to town.
"I get my dose of abuses from rowdy touts who think I’m driving the car because the owner, who must be a man, is not around," Mutiso says.
The businesswoman says only her husband believes she bought the mid-size SUV out of her sweat.
"It is interesting there is a mentality that a woman cannot work hard enough to buy a fuel guzzler as this is seen as the preserve of men," Mutiso says.
She refutes claims that most women driving fuel guzzlers wear sunglasses to make a fashion statement. Her most memorable moment was when she recently pulled over next to Nakumatt Mega on Uhuru Highway to fix a puncture.
"About four men stopped and offered to help me fix the tyre. I declined politely because I could do it on my own," Mutiso says.
"It is not easy at first and there will be times when the intimidation, bullying and road rages will make you think of leaving your car at home, but don’t give up," Wanjiru says.
Mutiso says some of her friends have opted to maintain their small cars despite promotions at work and decided to invest in real estate or trade in stocks.
"Not all women with means enjoy being told they slept their way to the showroom to buy a good car. It takes more than confidence to hit the road in your guzzler," she says.
The women wish people would recognise their education and hard work as the core reasons for their succeess and for venturing into the ‘preserves’ of men.
Mutiso says owning a car should not be an issue as more women are enrolling for post-graduate courses and getting well paying jobs.
"Many women today have MBAs unlike before," she says, adding that most of her peers enrolled for evening classes before promotions came calling.
"An increasing number of women do not depend on their spouses for finances compared to days of our parents," Mutiso says.