For a long time, Saudi women were not allowed to drive for some of the best known reasons in the Middle East Kingdom. It was a taboo to see a woman behind the wheel in the countryside. In June 2018, Saudi women were allowed to drive.
With nearly half of the country’s 32 million population, which has access to individual and independent transportation, this was the cornerstone of the Saudi economy. The first economic operator that was resistant to winds of change, of course, is the automotive industry. Most women were very happy because they believed it was a sort of sideline, even though they knew that it has been a rule in Saudi Arabia for a long time. However, most carmakers quickly used this change as an advantage to move to Saudi Arabia to make sales.
These companies developed new strategies to get the biggest cake, including Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). Saudi Arabia is the second largest market selling market for MENA after the United Arab Emirates. They achieved extraordinary income by accepting flexible payment arrangements for people, especially women. With the inclusion of female drivers, the manufacturer’s hopes were realized that the Kingdom would become a leading market.
There was an unexpected potential among new drivers, although some women had already bought cars for their chauffeurs to drive. Change in demand was huge. Car makers including Nissan sold more driver-oriented vehicles, especially smaller cars, and saw promising opportunities for customization. Outside car dealers, the whole ecosystem was looking for new drivers: Local banks expected car loans to increase, and advertising companies planned to develop new advertisements for women and driving schools sprung up nationally.
However, lifting the ban also made life uneasy for those who were driving women around. Their sales dropped quickly and they felt cheated. In 2017, there were almost 1.3 million drivers in Saudi Arabia, and their work was at risk and could not be easily restored. The same applies to taxis and private cars like Uber, which also boasts 80% of female customers in Saudi Arabia. But while richer classes hired drivers to transport them to work and fulfill orders, Saudi middle class households also benefited greatly from increased mobility.
In any case, more than 52% of Saudi graduates in 2016 were women. And many realised that a driving ban was an important barrier to entering the job market. If more women get access to work, it will certainly encourage job creation. The lifting of this ban is related to the 2030 reform plan of Saudi Arabia’s vision to prepare the economy for the future of oil.
Strangely, the policy change was announced not by the capital, Riyadh but by the Saudi embassy in Washington. The idea was to encourage foreign investors to see Saudi Arabia as a changing market rather than a place left behind and uninvited. Of course, this is a big change for women in Saudi Arabia, but they still need men’s approval to have a passport, travel abroad, or open a bank account.