How Uber Is Changing Life For Women In Saudi Arabia
Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive, leaving them reliant on male relatives or paid services to get to stores, school, and (increasingly) work. So when Uber launched in Riyadh in early 2014, its impact went beyond the general convenience of tech-enhanced ride hailing. The company has made a real difference in Saudi women’s mobility.
In December, entrepreneur and health advocate Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud will host 10KSA, a potentially groundbreaking breast cancer awareness and education event that aims to bring 10,000 Saudi women together for the first time in the country’s history. Uber is a cosponsor of the event, and Princess Reema has requested that 2,000 cars be on call that day to help make sure that as many women as possible can attend. But the service is already a daily resource for women in the country—Saudi Arabia general manager Majed Abukhater says that while his office doesn’t keep precise gender data, observation and anecdotal evidence suggest that 70% to 90% of Saudi Uber riders are women.
In a country where women can’t legally take the wheel of a car, one dynamic leader is moving quickly (yet gently) to offer them other tools toward engagement. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a princess.
“A lot of them, I would say, are young women,” says Abukhater. “We have some data to show that these women are starting to rely on Uber a lot more for their daily commutes; the proportion of trips that we see in Saudi during the weekday is actually very high relative to other locations. That’s just kind of one indicator to tell us that women are really starting to rely on Uber for their daily commutes to work, or to school, or to university.” While women comprise only 13% of the Saudi workforce, they make up a full 60% of the college student population, so this is not an insignificant number of daily trips.
“I use Uber every time I’m [in Riyadh], to get to and from the airport, to go to meetings, or to visit friends,” says Shahd AlShehail, a Saudi national who lives in Dubai but returns home often to visit family and for her work as founder of Just, a platform that helps brands through data and storytelling. “Many of my friends do, as well as family. Usually to go to work, run errands, or go to a social gathering.”
Before Uber came to the country—it currently operates in Jeddah and Dammam, in addition to Riyadh—women relied on private drivers (if they could afford them) or the limo companies that Uber now works with (for regulatory reasons, Uber in Saudi Arabia does not work with contracted drivers using their own cars—all Uber rides go through existing companies). “But the wait times would be half an hour,” says Abukhater. “Sometimes these transport companies would be totally booked. The women would be literally, in some situations, unable to move around the city. 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.”
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