Saudi women driving on the road to progress
By Shahzad Badar
The 60 years ban on women driving is finally gone in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – thanks to crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s Vision 2030, Saudi ladies celebrated the 24th of June as if they had acquired their wings for liberation.
24th June was a red letter day, a milestone marking the beginning of a new era for the economic liberation of Saudi women and society. According to an estimate 3 million Saudi women would be driving on the road by 2020.
The automobile industry in KSA is predicted to grow by 9 percent annually and hit the 30 billion SAR mark by 2020 creating thousands of new jobs predicts PriceWaterhouseCoopersin.
24th June was the D-day for which all women in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) had dreamt for and waited for decades. The wish to drive around on the roads with their friends and families has finally come true. The social media was flooded with selfies and videos of their first trips.
The event was welcomed and celebrated around the world. The resolution was welcomed by the USA , UN member states as a positive and historic step. The royal decree ending the ban was also welcomed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who saw it as a step on the right path.
In France Aseel Al-Hamad, the first female member of the Saudi national motorsport federation drove a Formula 1 racing car in a special parade before the French Grand Prix at Le Castellet. “I hope doing so on the day when women can drive on the roads in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shows what you can do if you have the passion and the spirit to dream,” she said.
In a tribute to Saudi female drivers, the Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji released a special video of a song she performed live in Riyadh at a concert last December “Today women in Saudi Arabia can legally drive their cars,” she said. “Congratulations on this achievement, this one’s for you!”
The Saudi women have been empowered in accordance with Prince Salman’s 2030 vision for taking the Saudi people particularly women into a new era of economic development and progress.
The atmosphere in KSA was euphoric. “It’s a beautiful day,” businesswoman Samah Algosaibi said as she cruised around the city of Alkhobar. “Today we are here,” she said from the driver’s seat. “Yesterday we sat there,” she said, pointing to the back.
“I feel proud, I feel dignified and I feel liberated,” said Saudi Shoura Council member Lina Almaeena, one of the first women to drive in the Kingdom.
The lifting of the ban on female driving has enabled the Saudis to witness a new economic and social change. “It will empower women and also change the employment landscape of the country,” said Mohammed Al-Khunaizi, a member of the Shoura Council.
Expressing his happiness over this historic moment, Al-Khunaizi told Arab News that “the number of expatriate drivers in the country today exceeds one million.” “The Kingdom will save between SR9 billion and SR12 billion annually after phasing out foreign drivers,” said the Shoura member, while calling the day (June 24) “the biggest day in the history of the Kingdom.”
Women will not be restricted to driving cars but also drive motorbikes and trucks. The Saudi General Directorate of Traffic giving details of the new regulations said, “Yes, we will authorize women to drive motorcycles” as well as trucks, the royal decree stipulates that the law on driving will be “equal” for both men and women.
Have faith and drive
Government agencies and private groups organized events to encourage women in Saudi Arabia to drive.
In a bid to encourage women to hit the roads, the General Entertainment Authority, the General Department of Traffic, Saudi Aramco, Dallah Albaraka, and Al-Hokair Group, organized a program titled “Tawakkali wa Intaliqi (Have faith and drive) from June 21 to 23 in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Tabuk.
The aim of the event was to educate participants about traffic rules and safety measures.
The program, held outside Jeddah’s Red Sea Mall, was divided into five sections: Safety, mechanics, knowing how to drive using driving simulators, parking techniques, and carting.
Wissam Chehade, the event organizer, said: “This program is really important. Our message is for females as it is their first time to drive and we are here to teach them the ABCs of driving.”
He said sometimes knowing the basics is more important than driving itself as it makes things easier at a later stage.
“It took a long time to prepare the program, studying how it can have an impact on people. We are covering topics from mechanics to safety, using special simulators, and the basics of knowing how to park a car,” Chehade said.
Uber launches portal for Saudi women
Uber has rolled out a new registration portal for Saudi women. women interested in earning extra income will be able to work for Uber. Uber’s “Masaruky” (“your path” in Arabic) initiative aims to increase women’s participation in the workforce through access to affordable transportation, in addition to increasing women’s access to flexible economic opportunities through Uber’s technology.
Earlier this year an Uber survey, carried out in collaboration with international research house Ipsos, found that 78 percent of Saudi women surveyed were likely to get a driving license with almost a third (31 percent) of those surveyed indicating that they were interested in driving as an earnings opportunity.
Uber has also announced that it is in the process of rolling out its first women’s drivers support center in Riyadh.
The driving opportunities for women will create 500,000 job opportunities in the next 10 years. Official figures state that Saudi women participation in the labor market does not exceed 22 percent. The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 seeks to increase this to 30 percent by 2030. END