Women Take the Wheel

Photo courtesy of Ford Middle East.

Written by Niti Parekh

Indeed, such a decision reminds people across the world that there remain communities that do not have certain rights for which many of us do not bat an eye. Most immediately, however, it leaves the global community to wonder about the direct economic and political implications of the decision on the largest economy in the Middle East.

Women around the world rejoiced in late September 2017, when representatives of the highly conservative Saudi Arabian government announced that female citizens would be able to drive from the following summer onwards.

Indeed, such a decision reminds people across the world that there remain communities that do not have certain rights for which many of us do not bat an eye. Most immediately, however, it leaves the global community to wonder about the direct economic and political implications of the decision on the largest economy in the Middle East.

From a political standpoint, this action was a major step towards improving the public image of a country often considered highly conservative and male-dominated. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been making various strategic moves to encourage the expansion of profitable sectors like tourism within the economy, increase expatriate settlement, and attract business from foreign nations. Actions such as these not only help the economy’s international reputation but also aid citizens’ quality of life.

The advantages under this new policy are numerous, enabling women to become contributing members of society beyond the confines of the home. Women will no longer be reliant upon anyone to drive them to and from work, their transportation expenses incurred with taxi use or private drivers will decrease, and opportunities will open for them to work at transport companies.

Beyond such immediate changes to the social environment, what effects might we expect to observe in the economy?

Looking at the major companies that are affected, vehicle and transportation companies seem to be the biggest losers and winners, respectively. Car manufacturing companies that serve middle- and higher-income classes are expected to benefit due to the sudden demand for more vehicles. On the other hand, revenues of public transport and private car services, two of the biggest being Uber Technologies and Careem, are expected to fall. Furthermore, this decree has given more information on how Saudi Arabia is planning to deal with the dwindling oil prices. It can be interpreted that expanding labor forces and improving public relations is a move to improve their economic situation and diversify revenue streams. Interestingly, Uber plans to recruit female drivers to provide economic opportunities and take advantage of the Kingdom’s decision.

The lift of the ban is a commendable move towards modernity and tolerance by the government, but Saudi Arabia has a long way to go in terms of accepting women as equal members of society. Women still require the permission of a male before leaving the country, getting a divorce, or going through with a surgery. Similarly, they receive only half of their inheritance (as compared to their male counterparts). Hopefully, the government and the monarchy will continue to reform these inequalities so that women might receive the rights they truly deserve.

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