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Here’s everything you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s historical moment on women driving

This week, on Sunday June 24th, a historic announcement was made for Saudi women. Yep, the moment we’ve all been waiting and yearning for has happened: women can now drive. The decision was made based on an announcement made by His Majesty, King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin AbdulAziz Al Saud where he granted women the legal right to drive.

According to Saudi TV channel, El Ekhbariya, within 12 hours of the ban-lift, more than 190 women drove from both sides of the King Fahad Causeway, the 25-kilometer bridge between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities also mentioned that a number of women drove through other borders crossing between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Major General Mansour Al Turki, the official spokesman of the Ministry of Interior and Major General Mohammed Al Bassami, Director General of the Ministry’s General Directorate of Traffic, said that in Riyadh, more than 120,000 women have applied for their driving licenses.

On the other hand, ride-hailing services Careem and Uber were quick to welcome Saudi women on board and mentioned that they’ll start their preparations and training for female drivers to join their workforces. In fact, Careem already revealed back in May its first female “Captainah” in Saudi Arabia: 43-year-old Enaam Gazi Al-Aswad.

Careem’s CEO Mudassir Sheikha mentioned in an emailed statement that they’re delighted to welcome those pioneering women to Careem and that it’s in line with the startup’s commitment to create job opportunities across the Middle East. “We’ve set a longer-term target of having 20,000 females signed up region-wide by 2020,” he said.

In addition, Uber is planning on launching a feature that would allow women drivers to choose female riders. “We are honored to play a part in this historic moment for women in Saudi Arabia. By empowering female entrepreneurs, Uber is proud to provide the same economic opportunities currently enjoyed by male drivers across the Kingdom,” Pierre Dimitri Gore-Coty, the head of operations for Uber EMEA stated.

But did you know that this could impact Saudi Arabia’s job market? Here’s how:

  • According to Ziad Daoud, Dubai-based Chief Middle East economist for Bloomberg Economics, lifting the ban on driving is likely going to increase the number of women seeking jobs in the long term. This, in turn, will boost the size of the workforce and lift overall incomes and output.

  • Ziad also states that this could add about $90 billion to Saudi economic output by 2030, which is as much income as the Kingdom is planning to sell shares in the national oil company, Saudi Aramco.

  • This is also expected to empower Saudi women as senior roles that require mobility will be open to women.

  • They’ll have wide access to city jobs, as women will be able to drive to cities for work.

  • Women won’t have to take nearby jobs just because it’s closer to them.

  • Part of Saudi’s government 2030 Vision is to increase the percentage of women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%. This could easily happen now that women are able to drive as they’ll have better career options and won’t have to rely on men to commute to work.

  • There are plans to hire women traffic police – something which has never happened before in Saudi Arabia.

  • According to the World Economic Forum, Saudi Arabia’s stock market rose almost 2% on the day the ban was lifted.

Furthermore, Business tycoon Al Waleed bin Talal also posted a clip of his daughter Reem driving for the first time in Saudi. ““There is no doubt that my brother [Crown] Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has great ideas. Women can now drive,” he said.

Back in April 2013, Al Waleed advocated for women drivers. He argued that allowing women to drive in the kingdom will result in benefits such as saving at least 500,000 jobs held by foreign drivers.

How do non-Saudi women feel about this?

Women across the region were pretty much psyched for this – especially Bahraini women. In fact, Bahraini women also waited until 12 PM for the ban to be lifted to drive across King Fahad’s Causeway to Saudi Arabia.

So far, the three Bahraini women made history by becoming the first women to drive to Saudi Arabia. These women are Aysha Bahlool, Basima Al Haram, and Nadia Fayez. “We are the first Bahrainis to drive and let our names be recorded in the annals of history,” they said.

Under the new Saudi traffic rules, Bahraini and other Gulf women can enter Saudi without the need for a male companion.

Faten Al-Haddad, Attorney, Legal Consultant at Al Haddad Law firm was also one of the first women to drive to Saudi Arabia the moment the ban was lifted. According to her, it was a great experience and was happy to find officials and employees at the Causeway to be supportive and welcoming. “I’m really happy we got the chance to drive in Saudi Arabia and be amongst the first women to experience that,” she said.

There are definitely more gender reforms required in Saudi Arabia that we hope to see implemented in the near future, but for now we’re happy to witness this historical moment.

What about you? What impact will women driving in Saudi Arabia have on society and culture in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries? Join our discussion on our Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Bayan Al-A'abed