New driving rules will increase number of women in energy, says Saudi minister


Last week, the nationwide ban on women driving came to an end, removing its status as the only country in the world to implement this rule. The landmark rule is viewed as a significant change that will liberate women from the restrictions of relying on a male driver, enabling more women to join the workforce and develop their own businesses.

In a recent interview, the energy minister of Saudi Arabia explains that the recent removal of the ban on women driving in the nation will improve the number of women employed in the energy market. According to the senior Ministry of Interior and Traffic, over 120,000 women applied for a driving license in the same week and demand continues to remain exceptionally high.

In many cases, Saudi women have been completely restricted from work, with the inability to travel any distance from their homes. Relying on one driver results in complications in the day to day life, and, balancing a job becomes particularly difficult. The opportunities for women working in the energy market have been somewhat challenging, considering many energy industry positions involve client visits and regular travel. Lifting the driving ban will combat equality and allow women to gain employment in the kingdom’s rich energy market.

Saudi officials are hoping that by allowing women to drive, the number of women in the job market will increase, cutting female unemployment rates (which currently stand at 35%).

Within the Vision 2030 plan led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, employing women is viewed as a critical element of the kingdoms long-term plan to transform the economy. A significant proportion of women make up the education system in Saudi Arabia. According to the Financial Times, female graduates outnumber the number of males, with over 105,000 women graduating from universities in 2016, compared to approximately 98,000 male graduates. One of the major objectives of the Vision 2030 plan is to increase women in the workforce from 22% to 30% over the next 15 years and reduce unemployment from 12.7% to 7% by 2030. (Source: Middle East Business Chief).

Prior to the driving rule changes, the labour ministry had developed a voucher scheme with popular taxi services such as Uber. The pilot project intends to serve up to 150,000 women by 2020 and improve the ability for women to travel within the main cities of Saudi Arabia.

Government changes also include removal of segregation policies in the workplace. Companies can now employ women to work alongside men, subject to some additional facilities. Most facilities, however, have not been developed with this change in mind and will require further investment to facilitate these changes. Oil and Gas major, Saudi Aramco, is one business that continues to support both men and women in the workplace within its main compound located in Dhahran.

Under the male guardianship system, many restrictions remain in place in Saudi Arabia. Within this system, every woman is required to have a male guardian who holds the authority to control significant decisions on the behalf of a woman. Whilst the law to seek permission to gain employment was revoked in 2008 other restrictions in regard to passport applications, general travel, studying and marriage still exist. Earlier this year King Salman instructed all government organisations to allow women to access any government service without consent from a guardian.

The change to driving rules means women will become mobile and ultimately more empowered. Khalid A. Al-Falih, the energy minister believes that over time more women will participate in the job market and will contribute to the rise of women employed in Saudi Arabia.


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