In a country where you are prohibited from driving, how would you get around town? According to women in Saudi Arabia who live under a heavily enforced "no-driving" nationwide policy, the answer is Uber.
Despite a recommendation from the Shura Council, a Saudi advisory committee (which, to be fair, comes with its own set of restrictions), women are still forbidden to drive in the country for fear of spreading "licentiousness," such as the removal of jilbaab, hijab, or any sort of religious-based face-covering to properly keep one's eyes on the road. While there is no general law that effectively states that women are banned from driving a vehicle, they are required to have issued licenses, which women are outlawed from obtaining; hence, the de facto prohibition. If a woman is caught driving, punitive measures are taken,
Because of their government-mandated limited mobility, a majority of women regularly utilize car services to get around big cities like Riyadh, Dammam, and Jeddah, where the Saudi Uber outreaches are currently headquartered.
Although Saudi women only make up 13 percent of the work force, anecdotal evidence suggests that anywhere in between 70 percent to 90 percent of Saudi Uber's customers are female (there is currently no data that zeroes in on a gender demographic breakdown regarding use of the app service).
This is no surprise: with 60 percent of the university population made up entirely of female students, according to a statistic cited by Fast Company, women in Saudi Arabia, now, more than ever, need to get around – not only where they need to be, but where they want to be.
While it is technically haraam – forbidden – for women to interact with nonfamilial males, allowances are made for the sake of practicality.
The Uber app became available for Saudi residents in May 2014.
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Uber general manager Majed Abukhater extrapolated on the dramatic differences he's witnessed with the startup's introduction into Saudi life, especialy for women.
"Sometimes these transport companies would be totally booked. The women would be literally, in some situations, unable to move around the city," said Abukhater. "Now that we've added this technology layer into the existing transport infrastructure, women don't have to call 10, 20 companies to try to find a driver. They can literally just open up the app. That's why we've seen the growth that we've seen."
Photo: Peter Dowley | Flickr