Lifting ban on Saudi women driving will transform jobs landscape

Majority of Saudi women plan to take up driving this year, finds a Gulf Talent survey

TOPSHOT - A Saudi woman practices driving in Riyadh, on April 29, 2018, ahead of the lifting of a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia in the summer. 
In September 2017, a royal decree announced the end of a ban on women driving -- the only one of its kind in the world -- as of June 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Yousef DOUBISI

The vast majority - 82 per cent - of women in Saudi Arabia plan to start driving this year, a survey found, as a long-standing ban on female drivers in the kingdom is set to be lifted on Sunday.

A shift towards women driving in Saudi Arabia is likely to transform the kingdom’s employment market by enabling more women to enter the labour force, while those that already work may take up senior jobs that may be further from their homes or require frequent travel between locations, the survey from online recruitment firm Gulf Talent found.

“The survey [suggested] that women’s driving significantly enhances their chances of career progression, by giving them the mobility required for managerial positions and removing logistical barriers that have traditionally inhibited promotion to senior roles,” the report said.

Mai, a Jeddah-based project engineer, for example, told Gulf Talent that being able to drive would make her "eligible for the more senior position of project manager as the role requires constant movement between the office and project sites to supervise work".

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic diversification strategy aims to raise women’s participation in the workforce to 30 per cent from 22 per cent today, and new opportunities created by allowing women to drive for the first time in the kingdom’s history is expected to help it achieve that goal.

By 2020, an estimated three million women are forecast to be driving in Saudi Arabia, according to research earlier this year by audit firm PwC. As a result, the kingdom’s automotive sector is expected to see a boost in demand, fuelling car sales and creating new jobs in the sector.

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Ride-hailing app Careem, which estimates 70 per cent of its passengers in the kingdom are female, announced last year its intention to hire 20,000 female "captains" by 2020. On Saturday, Rival firm Uber said it will test a new feature for women drivers in Saudi Arabia to select a preference to only carry women riders.

Jim Farley, executive vice president and president of global markets at car maker Ford Motor Company, said his firm “looks forward to supporting a whole new generation of women drivers in the kingdom”.

Gulf Talent's study this month, which was an online survey of about 400 women based in Saudi Arabia, said the women most likely to benefit from driving are those in villages and small towns who need to commute to jobs in larger cities using costly and limited public transport.

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