Saudi Arabia’s decree on granting driving licenses for women has received much praise in the kingdom, as it not only grants women more freedom of mobility, but is also expected to have a positive impact on a social and economic level.
In her first exclusive interview, newly appointed spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington, Fatimah Baeshen, spoke about the royal decree with Al Arabiya English, stating that the status of Saudi women has been evolving over the years and shall continue to do so.
“The leadership will respond with appropriate policies to reflect changes that are happening organically,” she said.
The decree has ordered the setting up of a ministerial body to give advice on the implementation within 30 days and to ensure the order is carried out by June next year.
“The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike,” the Saudi Press Agency said.
Plaudits from home and abroad
The move has also received commendation internationally. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the Saudi decision, calling it a positive move and US President Donald Trump said it was a “positive step” towards promoting women’s rights.
Baeshen, the first woman appointed as government spokesperson, said that the reaction in the United States was “overwhelmingly supportive, indicating a positive trajectory for the general course of Saudi women’s rights.”
However, the lifting of the ban is not only a social victory for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia but is expected to have a positive impact on the country’s economy. The decree is another step toward achieving Vision 2030, which aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and encourage its people to join the workforce.
The ban had long been a financial and logistical hurdle for women supporting the country's economy. Given issues with public transport, many were forced to employ chauffeurs to go to work or get around.
Decree to create more jobs
According to latest statistics, there are nearly 800,000 men — mostly from South Asia — who work solely as drivers to Saudi women.
According to Baeshen, allowing women to drive will increase the enrollment of women in the labor market. She stated that one of the obstacles for women entering the work force in the past has been mobility and the cost of transportation.
“This policy will directly address this issue and support achieving the Vision’s aim,” she said.
According to the World Bank, Saudi women constituted 15.2 percent of the total Saudi labor force in 2016.
“This [royal decree] may open the gates for women drivers in ride-sharing services, which will create jobs that are more flexible,” Baeshen said.
Relevant institutions have about 10 months to build their capacities to address the demand with respect to increasing driving schools and the police force. This will be facilitated through the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the Ministry of Interior.