Saudi Arabia is on an accelerated mode, inching toward egalitarian society to achieve the Vision 2030, with a 30 percent female workforce. The recent move to allow women drivers is a much-needed boost to females’ morale in this Gulf nation. However, Saudi women getting behind the wheel is not totally new.
Close to a quarter (24 percent) of Saudi females have already driven a car outside of the Kingdom, and out of this (24 per cent) 43 percent have obtained a driving license in another country, reveals an Arab News – YouGov poll on ‘Attitudes towards Women Driving’.
Faisal J Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Arab News, said that the poll exposes the true significance of the “historic” decision for Saudi society.
“Lifting the driving ban is the latest step in a raft of reforms under way in the Kingdom, both social and economic. But this change will, arguably, have the biggest positive impact on the day-to-day lives of citizens,” said Abbas.
“One of the most revealing findings of the Arab News/YouGov survey was that most women who plan to get behind the wheel will do so in order to get to work,” said Abbas.
King Salman had last month issued a decree, which will allow women to get behind the wheel by June next year. The current “ban” is considered a social issue in the Kingdom, as there is no actual law or religious edict that prohibits women driving.
“Three-quarters of Saudi Arabia’s females have not driven a car before. Out of (24 percent) females who have driven a car, 57 percent do not have a driving license,” revealed the poll findings.
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Giving full marks
There are a few concerns, however. Foremost is that this move will compromise the decades-old ethics and customs of Saudi Arabia, while the academicians and leading think tanks feel that this is a strong step toward modernization and equality.
“Conservatives see this ban on women drivers a resistance to progressive policies. To them, reversal of the policy would mean a bow to Westernization. Saudi Arabia is nonetheless making it clear that the direction of change is toward an embrace of modernization without abandoning traditions and customs which the country holds dear,” said Ola Salem, head of communications at Arabia Foundation.
John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh, said, “Lifting the ban on women drivers is part and parcel of Vision 2030, which is all about building sustainable economic and social structures that are uplifting for all.”
Eight in ten Saudis agree with the move
Almost eight in 10 Saudis residing in the Kingdom agree with the decision to permit women to drive, with the majority of women saying they plan to apply for a license, the poll revealed.
The wide-ranging survey polled 500 adults plus also revealed the car models favored among Saudi women and found that majority of women feel that getting behind the wheel will “transform” their lives.
Basic human right
A total of 77 percent of polled Saudis agreed with this decision — although the move was more popular among women than men. Seven in 10 males agree that women should have the right to drive, compared with 82 percent of females.
Freedom of movement for women and the belief that driving “is a basic human right” were the top reasons cited by those in agreement with the decision to lift the driving ban.
Among the move dissenters, 54 percent believe “it is not safe for women to drive,” while 36 percent said “it is against local cultural traditions.”
Mainly economic factors were cited by the Saudi men and women polled, when asked about the impact of women driving.
To boost local economy
The move would help boost the economy was the opinion of four in ten people polled, while 35 percent said this would allow more women to work.
In Saudi Arabia, currently, most women rely on male relatives to drive — with 75 percent of the poll respondents expressed that is how they get around.
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The poll illustrates, that the decision will have a huge impact on society, with two thirds of women questioned expressing that it will significantly “transform” their lives, and half saying it will be convenient for them to get to work.
“That (this move) will see more of the Kingdom’s highly educated women finding fulfilling employment, boosting household incomes, and helping to meet Saudi Arabia’s ambitious economic aim of shaking its ‘addiction’ to oil,” stated Abbas.
Kailash Nagdev, managing director of YouGov in the Middle East and North Africa, agreed that the move to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia would boost the economy.
“Undoubtedly this historical decision has had overwhelming support at home with 77 percent of Saudi nationals voting in favor of lifting the ban,” said Nagdev.
“Its impact is seen as not only offering greater freedom to women but also presenting the significant opportunities it will bring to households and the Kingdom’s economy. With six in 10 Saudi women who want to drive, planning to do so as soon as possible will be a boost for the automotive sector.”
Going for budget models
The automotive industry can also expect a massive financial boost from the move permitting women to drive, with 85 percent of Saudi women who plan to drive saying they will buy a car, the poll revealed.
Budget models are favored in the poll. With 44 percent saying they expect to spend just SR40,000 ($10,666) or less on a motor.
The Arab News / YouGov poll also delved into the ideal models of automobile for purchase by Saudi women. The top colors chosen were black (29 percent) and pearl white (12 percent) with the least popular being pink, grey and brown.
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Medium sized sedans are the most favored among Saudi women, with Toyota, BMW and Jeep named among the top brands.
Source: Press Release