The number is not far from the truth and if we count the domestic workers, the number exceeds 1.5 million. Most of these domestic drivers work for families in Saudi Arabia and drain their revenues but now that the ban on women’s driving has been lifted, there aren’t any strong reasons to hire them.
More than 120,000 women submitted applications to get driving licenses once the ban was lifted. This number expresses the magnitude of popular support and which we weren’t certain of before considering that allowing women to drive cars has been a religious and social problem for a long time.
Fixing the social and economic situation of the Saudi family serves the interest of the local economy as financial squandering on it or because of it is very huge. Since celebrations, concerts and cinemas were banned, hundreds of thousands of families traveled for entertainment. Due to the government regulations’ restraints on professions that hire women, tens of thousands of qualified women were left jobless without a source of income.
All this is changing gradually today. Two years ago, only few shops at the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah allowed hiring women but today the majority of employees are women while the minority is men. These women were probably hired at the expense of foreign laborers.
Job openings for women
During this year, job openings for women included opportunities in government institutions such as the police, traffic department, insurance companies and passport department. Saudi women also began working as private taxi drivers and so in the past few months, we have seen women for the first time working at airports, hotels and restaurants, though the number is limited. The Social Development Bank proposed to grant women cheap loans to buy private taxi cars to work with Uber and Careem. Commercial car agencies raced to make similar offers and began hiring women at their showrooms.
This governmental bravery that’s unique in the kingdom’s history in terms of breaking what’s socially prohibited is achieving quick and amazing results and leading the society in general towards change. Everything we’ve seen so far is received in a positive, peaceful and smooth manner. The authorities had taken plenty of precaution in case of negative reactions rejecting these new measures and it must have deployed thousands of policemen across the kingdom to guarantee the implementation of the law and protection of social peace. Change has peacefully passed.
Before all this, the government, upon King Salman’s directions, finalized an anti-harassment law that protects everyone particularly women, and harshly punishes those who violate it.
A police official said: “We are anticipating that any harassment violations to occur to be immediately punished (the perpetrator) and make him an example, but we have not detected a single case.”
This governmental bravery that’s unique in the kingdom’s history in terms of breaking what’s socially prohibited is achieving quick and amazing results and leading the society in general towards change. Everything we’ve seen so far is received in a positive, peaceful and smooth mannerAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Those who sarcastically look at this change are ignorant of the historical circumstances and local traditions inherited from wrong practices and are not aware that it is not easy to confront them. It is similar to what the American local authorities confronted across different states after they lifted racial discrimination that prevented non-white residents from studying, working and eating in the same places as white people and from using the same means of transportation used by white people.
America as a civilized country suffered and continues to suffer from bad social legacies, and this is the case in Saudi Arabia towards women. However there is a huge difference. Yes, there are many citizens who reject the idea of hiring women in mixed public places and reject women’s driving but despite these deep feelings, they respectfully dealt with the royal decisions issued in the past two years. This reminds us of the wide social protests by conservatives against women’s education in the end of the 1960s. When those who opposed the move went to meet with King Faisal, may he rest in peace, he said the famous statement: “You are not forced to educate your girls, but we will open schools.” After few years, all girls were enrolled to study and the number of female students at Saudi universities is now more than the number of male students.
The positive social movement stopped with the emergence of the religious Sahwa movement in the kingdom in the beginning of the 1980s. Extremist and conservative groups were not challenged and the train of social reform was not operated until recently. In addition to fixing social distortions and strengthening the local economy, this also ends women’s suffering. Few people know about the latter and about women’s suffering during the previous circumstances.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.