The New Saudi Arabia: Female Taxi Drivers

King Salman’s decision to lift the driving ban on women will have a major impact on Saudi Arabia’s economic/business sectors, particularly the automotive industry. However, it may also influence the number of women in the workforce. Careem, a ride-hailing company based in Dubai announced their plans to employ ‘up to 100,000 female chauffeurs’ to attract new customers. In fact, this week Careem ran its first ever recruitment session located in the city of Khobar which engaged many women, “attracted a diverse crowd … around 30 women registered for the event in Khobar; many arrived unaccompanied by men, something not commonly seen in a country where male guardians have arbitrary authority to make crucial decisions on behalf of women” as reported by the AFP, a global news agency that was also invited to the recruitment session.

In a press release published last month, King Salman announced the decision to lift the driving ban on women would be implemented in June 2018, and positive reactions from around the world followed as soon as the decision was announced. ABC News detailed the positive responses from many activists including Manal al-Sherif, who was previously arrested after a driving protest in 2011, “Today, the last county on Earth to allow women to drive … we did it.” After gaining much international criticism in the past for being the only country in the world to ban its women from driving, this development elicited a positive response from the U.S State Department, which welcomed the move as “a great step in the right direction”. Furthermore, Nawal al-Jabbor, who is a 50-year-old mother of three, spoke at the Careem recruitment session this week about the announcement. “For years I felt helpless. My car would be parked outside and I could not drive … it felt like we had woken up in a new Saudi Arabia.”

There are still severe restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia. However, lifting the driving ban is certainly a step in the right direction. Women’s rights issues in the country surround the fact that women must have the consent of a male guardian for many necessary decisions, and these can range from “education, employment, marriage and even medical treatment”, as stated by ABC News. Thus, women wanting to acquire a car will still need the consent of male relative/guardian; moreover, some activists in the country that campaign for women’s rights are in danger. This danger is explained in an article in the New Yorker by Katherine Zoepf, “activists in the country will still live under threat. (According to one women’s-rights campaigner I emailed, at least two dozen female intellectuals, including some who have not been involved in recent right-to-drive efforts, received threatening calls from security officers at the Diwan, warning them against even making positive public comments on the new decree.)”

Saudi Arabia has proposed many new initiatives under the Vision 2030 program, which establish change in the country and seek to “elevate women to nearly one-third of the workforce, up from about 22 percent now,” as reported by AFP. Just like the actions of Careem to involve Saudi Arabian women in the workforce other interests are being established, AFP reports that Princess Nourah University will initiate a driving school for women. This important decree allowing women to drive is positive; however, there are many more women’s rights issues in the country that must be addressed.