Saudi women take the wheel, test-driving a new freedom
Saudi women take the wheel, test-driving a new freedom
“I’m a little nervous,” the 30-year-old master’s student said.
Francesca Pardini, an Italian former racing driver, helped to calm her nerves, reminding Salem to check the mirrors and buckle up. Once on the road, Pardini reached over to help straighten out the wheel after a left turn, and they both lurched forward when Salem stepped on the brakes before a stop sign.
Effat University in Jeddah organized the sessions for students to learn the basics of how to operate a car. For most of the young women, the hour-long training, sponsored by Ford Motor, is the first time they have sat in the driver’s seat. Universities across Saudi Arabia are expected to offer women full driving courses once the rules and guidelines from the government are announced.
“I felt out of place. I’ve never sat on that side of the car. Usually, I always sit in the back or on the right side, but it felt good. You feel, like, in control,” said Sara Ghouth, 18. “I want to drive a car. I want to be independent.”
Car companies see the lifting of the ban on women driving in June as an opportunity to promote their brands and increase sales.
Ford’s Driving Skills for Life program, a one-time session that focuses on safety, has been taught around the world, and to male drivers in Saudi Arabia, but this is the first time the company has taught women-only groups.
“With these girls, they’re like an empty book,” Pardini, the Italian trainer with Ford, told The Associated Press. “They really want to learn.”
Before the training began this week, Ford conducted surveys with women across Saudi Arabia to better understand what they are looking for in a car and how to market their brand to the new drivers.
“The first thing we don’t want to do is be patronizing. This isn’t about lip gloss and nail polish and things like that. These are educated women,” said Crystal Worthem, a marketing manager with Ford.
Worthem said Ford “absolutely” expects a lift in sales as Saudi women start driving this summer. She says some women are already purchasing cars for when the ban is lifted, while others own the cars they are driven around in.
“Women have always been in our showrooms, but now women are actively shopping for themselves, which is exciting,” she said. “It’s a car that they can drive and not a car that they’ll be riding in.”
Amal Al-Jihani, 23, an architecture student, said her biggest supporter encouraging her to drive is her father, who has promised to give her one of the family’s used cars when she’s ready for the road. Her 16-year-old brother already drives.
“My mom is refusing the idea of us driving. She says it’s dangerous and she’ll let us drive when we’re married,” Al-Jihani said, laughing. “My dad tells her she’ll relax when she sees everyone else driving.
Joanna Al-Fattani, 19, relies on services such as Uber to go most places. To get to and from college, she has two different drivers. She said a lot of women are nervous about the idea of driving alongside men on the roads, but she’s looking forward to the freedom.
“It’s such an important announcement. Everybody needed this. Now is the right time to do it,” she said.
The President of Effat University, Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, said women driving would offer them more opportunities to join the workforce. “It’s not a simple societal change,” she said. “It’s time to take the wheel and drive to our heart’s content.
“Effat University always leads things and gives women opportunities that have never been offered to them before. This initiative is one of those opportunities, we’re offering it gradually.
“We’re making sure that the students, staff, and faculty learn the basics before going into real driving.”
Saudi businesswomen eye greater role in the economy with end to driving ban
- The historic move is a huge step forward for businesswomen in the Saudi Arabia, says businesswoman
- A recent survey by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce indicated that transportation was a major concern holding Saudi women back from joining the labor market
The end of the driving ban will boost women’s financial power and allow them to play a bigger role in economic and social diversification in line with Vision 2030, prominent businesswomen said on Friday.
Hind Khalid Al-Zahid was the first Saudi woman designated as an executive director — for Dammam Airport Company — and also heads the Businesswomen Center at the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
She sees the historic move as a huge step forward for businesswomen in the Kingdom.
“Women being allowed to drive is very important; of course this will help a lot in sustainable development as the lifting of the ban on women driving came as a wonderful opportunity to increase women’s participation in the workforce,” she told Arab News on Friday, ahead of the end of the ban on Sunday.
She added that women in the job market are under-represented; they make up to 22 percent of the national workforce of about six million according to official estimates. Lifting the ban will help to take women’s representation in the workforce to 30 percent by 2030, she said.
“This is not just the right thing to do for women’s emancipation, but also an essential step in economic and social development as part of the reforms,” she said.
She said that there were different obstacles in increasing women’s participation in the workforce and other productive activities, and the driving ban was one of them. It was a strategic issue that needed to be addressed on a priority basis. With the issue resolved, it would help immensely in giving Saudi women better representation as they would help to diversify the Saudi economy and society.
She said that women could contribute hugely to the workforce and labor market as half of Saudi human resources were female, and unless allowed to excel in different sectors it would not be possible to do better, mainly because of restricted mobility.
A recent survey by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce indicated that transportation was a major concern holding Saudi women back from joining the labor market.
Nouf Ibrahim, a businesswoman in Riyadh, said: “It will surely boost female economic participation and help increase women’s representation in the workforce immensely. It will also help to reduce the overall national unemployment rate as most of the unemployed are women and many of them are eligible as university graduates.”
She echoed the opinion that the move would help to bring an economic windfall for Saudi women, making it easier for them to work and do business, and thus play a bigger and better role that would help economic and social diversification in line with Saudi Vision 2030.
“Being able to drive from Sunday onwards after the ban is lifted will be a wonderful experience. Earlier we were dependent on a male family member and house driver to take us to workplace, to the shopping center, school or other required places for some work, now we can drive and that will allow active participation in productive work,” Sulafa Hakami, a Saudi woman working as the digital communication manager with an American MNC in Riyadh, told Arab News.
“Saudi women can now share effectively the bigger and better responsibilities,” she said.