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Women drivers - a slow start

How are our Saudi women drivers faring? Personally, I don’t know yet as I haven’t actually seen one on the road yet. Obviously, there are some as there was quite a fanfare on June 24th. So, lets see what the papers are saying.

First my regular “Arab News” has some statistics, gleaned from Government sources:

·         6 million Saudi women are expected to apply for a licence (that’s 65% of eligible women)

·         77% of Saudis agreed with the decision to let women drive

·         24% of Saudi women have driven in another country

A columnist has stated what she thinks the economic dividend will be:

After a prolonged debate over allowing women to drive cars in Saudi Arabia, finally the matter was put to rest on June 24 following a royal decree that was issued last year by King Salman. This has finally brought to an end a controversial social issue.

Allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia is considered to be a major step forward, not only socially but also financially, since it is expected to reflect positively on the Kingdom’s economy and Saudi families’ spending power and habits.

On the economic side, it is expected that the number of Saudi women participating in the labor market will increase since one of the most critical issues hindering them previously was the limited availability of public transportation, especially those which are suitable for women’s needs.
Increasing Saudi women’s participation in the labor market will help in achieving one of the most important goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which is to increase Saudi women’s participation in the market to 30 percent, up from 22 percent in 2016. It will also help reduce the unemployment rate among Saudi women, which has reached a record high of 33 percent.
It is expected that, by lifting the ban on women driving in the Kingdom, the number of foreign chauffeurs will go down by about 30 percent, or close to 400,000 from a total of 1.3 million foreign drivers who are currently working in Saudi Arabia. The drop in the number of foreign chauffeurs will reflect positively on the amount of money transferred out of the Kingdom since it is expected to reduce foreign transfers by more than SR5 billion ($1.3 billion) annually, which in turn will reflect positively on the balance of payments.

Families living in Saudi Arabia also will benefit from women being allowed to drive, since it will reduce the amount of money paid to recruit foreign chauffeurs, which amounts to SR33 billion annually. Such savings can be redirected and spent on basic needs and necessities.
On the microeconomic level, a number of sectors in the Kingdom will also benefit from women being allowed to drive, such as car sales, which are expected to increase by about 145 percent to reach SR108 billion by 2022 from SR44 billion in 2017, according to one economist. The insurance industry and other businesses — such as spare parts sales and auto repair workshops — are also expected to benefit.

In short, the decision to allow women to drive cars in Saudi Arabia is a very wise one, since it is expected to reflect positively on both the Saudi economy and society at large”.


And from a very senior engineer, her viewpoint about driving and social mobility:

 “Driving is more than self-transport: It is a freedom that transcends mobility, opening vistas of choice and opportunity. This metaphor is especially apt for Saudi Arabia’s women as the 61-year female driving ban ends. Saudi women have awaited this change. I am one of them.

I am no novice. I drove for years in Oregon, where I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering, and during a recent work assignment in Houston. But I responded to King Salman’s 2017 royal decree by taking a safe-driving course offered by my employer, Saudi Aramco. That this class exists says a lot about how the future will unfold.
Vision 2030 is a national program championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy beyond oil and make our cities among the world’s best places to live. Though government jobs have long been the norm, a dynamic private sector is taking root, in fields as diverse as robotics and IT, finance and tourism. It is a timely change.

As chief engineer at Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom’s oil company, I am excited about our independent refocus on the broader energy and chemicals industry — a direction that aligns with Vision 2030’s objectives. Because here, like everywhere else, disruptive technologies continue to grow exponentially, impacting every aspect of life. And talent is the competitive advantage.
Clearly, women must be part of Saudi Arabia’s economic and social transformation. Despite the driving ban, we are already a force.

More than half of the country’s degrees are held by women; 60 percent of us have a master’s or Ph.D. We work in fields such as medicine, academia, real estate and banking. We are industrial entrepreneurs. We dominate creative fields such as fashion and art; we are active in humanitarian causes. As for me, I hold the top technical position at the world’s largest oil and gas company.
In a STEM industry where women are globally and historically under-represented, I have developed software for reservoir simulations, worked as a computer systems engineer and managed international projects.

Yet despite our levels of education and professional achievement, women represent just 22 percent of the Saudi workforce. To put our potential into context, Bloomberg Intelligence calculates that if Saudi women’s job-force participation achieved GCC-region levels, gross domestic product (GDP) gains could reach $90 billion by 2030. With more than half the Kingdom’s population under 25, the need for quality jobs — and women to fill them — is urgent. Yet the long tradition of depending on a husband, son, father or brother to get from point A to point B is not conducive to employment. And in a country where mass transit is still a developing sector, most homes employ a foreign driver at crippling expense.

Plainly, the Kingdom must literally mobilize women — which brings me back to my driving course.
The Saudi Aramco Driving Center, created in partnership with the Saudi Traffic Police Authority, ensures that Aramco’s female drivers and their female dependents take to the roads armed with knowledge, skill and confidence.

The class began with driving theory. Interactive simulators offering 180 and 360-degree views of the road gave me a realistic immersion into hazardous scenarios, from rain and fog to sandstorms and poor night visibility. My ability to handle rough road conditions was convincingly tested. From there I learned about engine basics and other functions, and how to conduct fluid and tire air-pressure checks. I progressed to advanced maneuvering, and on the main driving track experienced every possible configuration from roundabouts to different road grades.
The entire point was to become a defensive driver, as well as a role model and influencer. Learning — and leading — through proven methodologies and competencies mean the roads we drive will be safer and more courteous.

After 24 hours of training — 12 on the driving range, 11 on company premises, and one in preparation for my exam — I had my Saudi driver’s license. And with that small laminated card, I became a part of history; there is no longer any nation where women may not drive. Nothing is more precious than being able to shape your own destiny, and that absolutely includes something so normal, so taken for granted, as getting where you want to go on your own power.
That could be another metaphor for these transformative times — a Kingdom built on oil becoming a nation of human energy, longstanding cultural practice shifting to make it happen. Driving will empower us women, but it is also unleashing a nation’s full potential. And we will get there on our own power
. “

Well said, ladies. But, wait – what is the reality just now? Another news article this week:

Ever since June 24, when the ban on women driving was lifted, many Saudis have been trying their luck at spotting an actual woman behind the wheel. People are keeping count of how many they’ve seen driving. As the number is still low, it’s become something of a phenomenon to spot one on the busy streets of Riyadh.

“People are joking that women drivers are like the Pokémon game: Rare to spot and everyone is looking out for them,” said Mozon S, a mother of three, who has registered at the Saudi driving school at Princess Noura University. She started taking lessons this week. “The number of ladies that have received their driving licenses do not compare to the amount of men who already have theirs. Therefore, the number of women taking to the streets is relatively low.” “A lot of men are saying look, women don’t want to drive, we haven’t seen any so far,” Mozon said. “But if they go to women driving schools and they see the ladies registering for a license, they will be surprised by the sheer number. Women by nature are responsible. This matter is no different to them. They know driving is a responsibility, which should be taken seriously and through legal means.”

“So far, I’ve only seen one lady drive at the Bahrain and Khobar intersection.” said Noor Musheiykh, an architect. “I was shocked. It felt weird, and I laughed afterwards. It’s because this is new, and we haven’t seen it, yet. The number of licenses issued for ladies is small, but them driving is giving off positive vibes!” More than 120,000 women have applied or expressed interest in obtaining a license so far. Which would explain the small number of women on the streets.”

Apparently there are very few driving schools/test centres (they are one and the same here, see my blog dated 25th October 2016 for my driving test experiences), and by the 24th June around 2,000 women had already passed and were just waiting for the big day to arrive. The driving schools are processing around 5,000 women a week, so allowing for a 45 week year (the driving schools are government run so will be at lower capacity during Ramadan, the two Eids and the Hajj week) we should see 225,000 ladies being licensed per year, so unless the capacity is boosted massively it will take 26 years to get the anticipated 6 million ladies onto the road.

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