SEATTLE — When news spread that come June 2018, Saudi Arabia would be giving women permission to drive, excitement and contentment could be heard in many corners of the world.
Saudi women had been fighting for the right to drive for over 30 years, and now, not only will they be able to obtain driver’s licenses, but they will not be required to ask their husband, father or male guardian for permission to apply for one. These women are thrilled about their newfound independence and they have already begun to use the new ruling to jumpstart their careers. Many women have begun registering as drivers for a Middle Eastern ride-hailing app known as Careem.
Founded in 2012, Careem is a ride-hailing app that operates in 13 Middle Eastern and North American countries, as well as in certain parts of Pakistan. As of 2017, the company was valued at $1 billion. Careem has the same mindset as their larger, Western counterparts — to offer an alternative to taxis and other expensive forms of public transportation.
With 80 percent of Careem’s customers being female and 100 percent of its drivers being male, the company has not received full support from their female constituents since their founding in 2012, as many women are not comfortable with being driven by a man. Because of this, the company has been a strong supporter of giving Saudi Arabian women permission to drive. Careem announced that when female Careem drivers are allowed to get behind the wheel in June 2018, the request of a female driver will only be available to women and families, and there will be a call-masking option to protect the driver’s and customer’s privacy.
Additionally, each woman interested in becoming a driver will take part in a 90-minute training that will be offered in the Saudi cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar, mostly targeted at women who have obtained a valid license abroad.
Abdullah Elyas, co-founder and chief privacy officer at Careem, told CNBC earlier this month that they are planning to have 10,000 female drivers this June, and so far, their goal does not seem too far-fetched. Already, the company has received thousands of applications for female driving positions, and all they have to do is pass the training and receive their certificate of completion.
Raniem Al-Lahham, one of Careem’s female trainers who teaches recruits about traffic rules in Saudi Arabia and company policies, told CNBC this past November that Saudi women had been waiting too long for this law, and the numbers of driving applications are consistently on the rise.
The main source of happiness for these women is not necessarily the idea of physically driving a car, but the sense of independence and self-sufficiency that comes along with it. While there was never a formal ban on giving Saudi Arabian women permission to drive a car, there were two restrictions that made it unlawful for them to do so:
- Only men were legally allowed to obtain driver’s licenses.
- Every woman must be accompanied by a male guardian when in public spaces (this does not apply to the new driving law).
Saudi Arabia began to see more progressive changes within their legislature upon the crowning of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a politician who has been serving as King of Saudi Arabia since 2015. Under his reign, the country has taken other positive steps in relation to women’s rights, such as:
- Women can now serve on local councils.
- Women can now use government services without permission from a man.
- Women are now allowed to enter sports stadiums.
While these, along with the new law granting Saudi Arabian women permission to drive, are certainly positive steps towards making Saudi Arabia a more woman-friendly country, the nation still has a long way to go in terms of offering its female citizens more inclusive environments in which they are treated the same as their male counterparts.
Come June 2018, when women will make up a large percentage of Careem drivers, the hope is that their proficiency and display of excellence will help them gain even more rights in the coming years.
– Alexandra Dennis