‘Because I can’: ride-hailing app welcomes Saudi women drivers

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Saudi national and newly licensed Reem Farahat, an employee of Careem, a chauffeur car booking service, prepares for a customer shuttle using her car in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. (AFP)
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A Saudi female customer gets into the car of Reem Farahat, a female employee of Careem, a chauffeur car booking service, in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 25 June 2018

‘Because I can’: ride-hailing app welcomes Saudi women drivers

  • The Dubai-based ride-hailing app, along with global behemoth Uber, say they would begin to hire women
  • Seventy percent of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women

RIYADH: Reem Farahat waited for a ride request. Her phone pinged. “I’ve already cried twice,” she said, heading out to work as one of Saudi Arabia’s first female drivers for Careem.
The Dubai-based ride-hailing app, along with global behemoth Uber, reacted to Saudi King Salman’s September announcement of an end to the Kingdom’s ban on female motorists by saying it would begin to hire women.
On Sunday, when the king’s decree took effect, nearly a dozen Careem “captainahs” — all Saudi women — were ready to pick up riders.
“This morning, when I got in the car, I felt the tears coming,” Reem said as she stocked her car with chilled water bottles for her riders.
“I pulled the car over and cried. I could not believe that we now drive... It’s a dream. I thought it would be totally normal, I’d just get in the car and go. I was surprised by my own reaction.”
She took a long pause.
“I didn’t expect it,” she said. “I’m doing this because I can. Because someone has to start.”
Seventy percent of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women, according to company statistics, a figure largely attributable to the Kingdom’s now-obsolete ban on women driving.
Uber puts its equivalent figure closer to 80 percent.
At Careem’s offices on Sunday, staff gathered to celebrate the women’s first day on the job.
Farahat’s first ride request came just hours after the ban was officially lifted.
“This is my first ride. I’m excited. I’m excited to know who I’m picking up, what their reaction is going to be,” she said.
The driver — who also works with her father as a quality control consultant, is training in life coaching, and scuba dives with her sister off the Red Sea city of Jeddah — picked up Leila Ashry from a local cafe.
Walking toward the car, Leila spotted Reem, did a little jump of joy on the sidewalk, and was already chatting as she opened the door.
“Oh my god I can’t believe it’s you. I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe I’m here,” Leila said.
“I’ve been tweeting to my friends that my ride is coming and it’s a woman! And you’re so pretty! And I can sit in the front now — wait, can I actually sit in the front next to you?“
Some 2,000 women have signed up to get their Careem licenses since September, said Abdulla Elyas, co-founder and CPO — “chief people officer” — of the ride-hailing app. They are all Saudi women, from their 20s to their 50s.
Uber also plans to introduce women drivers to their service this autumn.
“They come from completely different backgrounds,” Elyas told AFP.
“We have women who have degrees, a master’s degree. We have women who have no degree at all. We have women who want to do this full time. We have women who want to do this part time (for) an additional income, who are already working.”
Most of those who had been licensed by Sunday, like Reem, had permits from foreign countries, enabling them to skip driving courses and take the final exam for a Saudi license.
The “captainahs” can pick up any customer, man or woman.
Both the driver and rider have the right to end the ride at any point.
Leila, a young medical student with a pixie cut and bright smile, says she would still choose a woman.
“This automatically feels a lot safer... being a female and dealing with sexism on a day-to-day basis. There’s just something about it that feels wonderful. But it’s not only that. It’s also women joining the workforce,” she said.
Sitting in the front passenger seat, she recalled previous rides with male drivers.
“Before, sometimes they would stare at me from the mirror,” she said.
“It’s just like that thing we share with women, where we just automatically understand what it’s like to be in that position where you feel their eyes on you but you can’t say anything, you can’t do anything against it.”
She turned to chat to Reem, and sang a riff from a West Side Story tune before saying: “If you can do it, then I can do it.”
“See? That’s what I was talking about,” Reem said. “It’s that ripple effect.”

FaceOf: Fahad bin Sulaiman Altekhaifi, president of the General Authority for Statistics 

Updated 48 min 53 sec ago

FaceOf: Fahad bin Sulaiman Altekhaifi, president of the General Authority for Statistics 

Fahad bin Sulaiman Altekhaifi has been the president of the General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) since his appointment to the post in May 2016.

On Monday GASTAT announced this year’s Hajj statistics, revealing detailed information on the number of pilgrims (which amounted to 2,371,675) performing Hajj this year, their genders, nationalities and whether they arrived through air, land or seaports.

The president conveyed his gratitude to all government and security entities that helped the authority to collect data, and praised the 450 GASTAT researchers who worked to compile the information and deliver it to the public.

He said that the collected data would help facilitate better experiences and easier pilgrimages for future programs, and better services for pilgrims — from social to health, and transportation to security and food.

Altekhaifi received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from King Saud University in 1992, a master’s degree in statistics from Colorado State University in 1996, and his applied statistics and research methodology Ph.D. from the University of Northern Colorado in 2001.

He worked as a manager of a financial program at the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh from 1993 to 2005. For two years after that, he was a project director at the EIS department in Zuhair Fayez Partnership Consultants.

In 2007, Altekhaifi was appointed a manager of the research department at the Capital Market Authority, before becoming assistant deputy minister for development in November 2011. 

In June 2015, he was the director general of the Central Department of Statistics and Information. He served as the acting president of GASTAT in February 2016, before being appointed president on May 2016.