Dr. Shareefa Abdullah Al-Adwani
Rai Insights Contributor
Kuwait: Saudi Arabia’s uniqueness in being the only country in the world that banned women from driving ended 26 September 2017 with King Salman’s female licensure Decree, in force on June 2018. Implementation will present several new challenges in some areas but will also present new opportunities for Saudi women in part and for the country as a whole. Indeed, this domestic social, political, and perhaps resultantly economic liberalization, may place the country in alignment with the Saudi Vision 2030, a development plan for the country’s future and may also transform Saudi Arabia’s engagement with the international arena by aligning the country with international law.
The following is by no means a complete list of impacted sectors.
- The Reduced Market for Chauffeurs: At this time, there are currently 1.4 million personal drivers – chauffeurs – in Saudi Arabia. According to one estimate, 800,000 drivers are used for the purpose of chauffeuring women to works, school, and leisure activities. Supposing half of those chauffeurs lose their jobs within the next year, and if each driver earns a yearly average of SAR 33,000 (2,657 KWD) then the decrease of remittances abroad would be by SAR 13.2 billion – equivalent to a month of all total remittances send out of Saudi Arabia.
- Increased Infrastructural Support for License-Related Areas: The legal age to drive in Saudi Arabia is 18. According to the Saudi 2010 population estimate, and holding the 2014 estimated mortality rate of adult women constant over time, more than 7 million women will be eligible to drive by 2018. The areas related to licensure may be greatly impacted. There is need for female driving schools with teachers, women test drivers, and expansion of personnel at police stations. While some of these expansions may be mitigated by using a tiered rollout of license issuance, there is still need for large infrastructural expansion at many bureaucratic (public) levels.
- Private Markets Impacted: More cars will be sold: while some families will utilize the current cars they have, or use the car that had been used by the chauffeur, others will require or desire to buy a new – or used – car. The current Saudi car market has experienced a dip of 28% in the first seven months of 2017. If forecasts are correct, the car market could at least mitigate or even offset the current recession. At the same time, these several million new drivers need driver’s insurance, ranging from simply liability insurance to full coverage insurance. The insurance companies stand to recoup losses from the reduced chauffeur market, and will experience a high level of profit during the first few years.
- Road Design and Expansion: While smaller towns may be able to accommodate more cars through re-routing and changing commute times, developed older cities, such as Riyadh and Jeddah, need to expand their roads. Riyadh may be a useful example. In this city of over 5 million people, or approximately 2.7 million men of Saudi and non-Saudi origin, 1.8 million men are eligible to drive. That leaves 2.3 million women of both Saudi and non-Saudi origin. Using the national ratio of Saudi women to non-Saudi women (2.7), results in 1.7 million Saudi women, of whom, roughly 1.1 million are eligible to drive. In the case of Riyadh, there may be up to a 38% increase of drivers on the road.
- Increased Accidents: The current accident rate in Saudi Arabia is about 1 accident per minute. The city of Riyadh experiences the highest share of accidents in the country: 28%. Whether male or female, drivers have accidents. The young and/or inexperienced, are most accident-prone, and pay the highest insurance rates. In Saudi Arabia, 36.3% of all accidents are caused by youths (aged 18 to 33). If new, inexperienced drivers have the same accident rate as youth in the region, the rate of car accidents will increase by perhaps double, at least initially. In response to this likelihood, there should be preemptive expansion of accident response fields: medical teams, insurance industries, and police units.
The impacts on these five areas provide new opportunities for women and men. Perhaps a new taxi company will absorb some of the chauffeur market losses and will create a new business niche for female taxi drivers (driving exclusively for female passengers, for the meantime). Road infrastructure planning may involve job openings for positions requiring specific transportation expertise. Certainly the expansion of the licensure bureaucracies, the private industries of car sales and insurance, and accident response teams generates jobs for all, and new career opportunities for women as driving instructors, emergency medical technicians, and traffic police.
Domestic and International Implications
This single reform is at once both a domestic liberalization and an alignment with international law. The Saudi regime’s credible step towards greater domestic enfranchisement addresses several Ministries’ strategic objectives in the Saudi Vision 2030’s National Transformation Program (NTP), including the sectors of economy and planning, commerce and investment, and social and development. Concurrently, the expansion may need to be harmonized with the government’s budgetary reconciliation plan. Internationally, Saudi Arabia is moving towards compliance with various international agreements, including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and also addresses concerns raised by the 2005 UN Arab Human Development Report on Gender, such as how restriction on women’s mobilities decreases utilization of human capabilities (123). This new mobility of Saudi women will transform fields ranging from education to employment, but there are other political and social mobility restrictions in place, both formal (e.g., guardianship) and informal (family, personal and political beliefs, and private and public culture) that confound a clear and immediate outcome on the social and political level. While the Decree came from the top – for now, the rest of this story lies in the hands of the Saudi people.
**Dr. Shareefa Al-Adwani is an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Department of International Relations at the American University of Kuwait. She completed her PhD in Political Science at the University of California, Davis, focusing on the two fields of International Relations and Quantitative Methods. She teaches courses related to Kuwaiti foreign policy, international law, international organizations, politics and women in the Middle East, and quantitative methods. Her current research projects involve (1) the investigation of GCC socio-political phenomenon and changes over time using recently available government data and (2) using various new and existing cross-sectional time-series data to investigate the domestic factors for international cooperation, treaties, and agreements.