As clock struck 12, women drivers across the Kingdom took the wheel as a long-awaited decades long ban on females driving came to an end on June 24, 2018.
One of the most prominent women driver was businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s daughter Reem, who drove around with her father and her children as she celebrated the lifting of the ban. Alwaleed termed the step as a “great achievement” in a video posted on Twitter.
Social media too was awash with pictures of women driving around the cities, marking the lifting of the ban. On June 5, 10 women received their license after swapping their foreign licenses for a local one. Authorities expected 2,000 women to have their driving license by the time the ban was lifted on June 24.
The removal of the ban is part of reforms instituted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in order to offset the fall in oil revenues- one of the main sources of public income. The move is expected to benefit the country positively as it could boost its growth rate primarily by increasing the participation of women in the workforce.
According to a survey by recruitment website GulfTalent, 82% of women plan on taking up driving this year. This is expected to provide more career progression for women by giving them the mobility required for managerial positions, paving their way to senior roles.
Hala, a regional HR manager at a construction company in Dammam was quoted as saying to GulfTalent: “Senior positions often involve working with employees in multiple offices across the region either within or outside the country, which was more difficult in the past without being able to drive. Now that women will be able to drive, more female candidates will likely be considered for senior roles that entail traveling to other offices.”
GulfTalent's survey recorded many such testimonies of Saudi women who would now not be restricted to choosing workplaces close to their homes. Many respondents said that they previously had to settle for jobs with lower pay than their qualifications merited or unrelated to their interests and studies because of transport constraints. With the ban now off, many said that they will be looking for better opportunities.
Although women are well educated within the Kingdom, the unemployment rate among them is as high as 30%, statistics reveal. But with better mobility, experts and women workers hope things get better for them.
According to consultancy firm PwC, around three million women drivers could receive their licenses and can actively begin driving by 2020.
Allowing women to drive has also given way to women specific driving schools while car manufacturers and distributors are bracing for a slight uptick in sales.
Meanwhile ride sharing firms like Uber and Careem have already began training women drivers as they tout their potential in getting them on as driver partners within their platform.
Although the move to allow women to drive is definitely a step in the right direction, women in Saudi Arabia are still bound by certain rules as they still need permission from their male guardians to travel or to get married.