Women drivers took to the streets of Saudi Arabia this week as a ban against them driving was lifted. Now a new job possibility has arisen for Saudi women: professional driver.
Traditionally, only men have filled such jobs in Saudi Arabia. And the majority of professional drivers are from poor countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Until recently, many Saudi men refused to do the job because they believed the work to be below their social station.
Saudi women who want to work as drivers for car services are testing traditional limits in the deeply conservative country.
Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to bar women from driving. And, women still must get permission from a male relative before they can drive, get a job or passport, and travel outside the country.
Ammal Farahat has a master’s degree and runs her own business. The mother of two told the Associated Press, “It’s very natural for people to resist change.”
She added, “Once they start seeing more positive images and opportunities and what it means for women to drive, they’re going to change their minds.”
Farahat has driver’s licenses from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. She has signed up to be a driver for the car service Careem, a local competitor to Uber.
For many women who sign up to become drivers, the job provides another earnings source and greater financial independence.
Careem co-founder Abdullah Elyas said of women employees, “We are empowering them to be their own boss, to drive or work whenever they want, and to work how long they want, as well. Perfect for women who are in the workforce.”
The government provides jobs for about 70 percent of Saudis. However, with falling oil profits, the government cannot provide enough jobs for the growing number of Saudis entering the workforce.
Careem said 2,000 women have registered as drivers since September, when officials announced they would cancel the ban. The international car service company, Uber, said over 100 Saudi women have expressed interest in employment as drivers.
In recent years, thousands of young Saudi men have signed up also. More than 150,000 registered with Uber. About 170,000 signed up with Careem.
But 80 percent of Uber’s customers are women; for Careem that percentage is 70.
While there has been a loosening of social restrictions in recent years, Saudi culture still rejects the mixing of unrelated men and women. A male driver talking with a female passenger can lead to a report of a problem.
To deal with this restriction, Uber added a new feature in Saudi Arabia that permits women drivers to choose women riders. And Careem said its drivers could accept or refuse a ride request based on sex.
Farahat spoke of her young daughter and niece as she drove around the streets of Riyadh, the Saudi capital. They would never know the trouble her generation went through to get from one place to another, she said.
“They’re not growing up in the same Saudi Arabia I grew up in at all,” Farahat said.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on AP news reports. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
positive - adj. good or useful
opportunity - n. a situation in which something can be done
license - n. an official document