Despite the recent large investment Saudi Arabia made in the ride-share company Uber—an investment pegged at roughly $3.5 billion—it looks like a number of women are not optimistic about the service granting them a sense of agency in a country where they are forbidden to drive by law.
In a recent report published by BuzzFeed, a number of female Saudi citizens expressed their lack of optimism that the introduction of Uber as a means of transportation would do anything to change attitudes regarding Saudi Arabia’s driving ban.
“We as women can’t drive,” said Hassah Al-Qabisy, a security worker at a hospital in Riyadh, in an interview. “If you know that we have been fighting for years to drive our own cars—and the state doesn’t allow that—what makes you think that Uber will change anything?”
While Uber has had a business presence in Saudi Arabia since 2014—and despite the fact that women represent around 80% of their customer base in the country—many see it as a false means to a currently near-unattainable solution.
“Uber is like satellites, or mobile phones, or even Twitter,” a 17-year-old student in Riyadh named Gharam told BuzzFeed. “[These are] Western tools that Saudi Arabia can’t prevent. But it will never change the culture—never make real change. So yes we will have Uber, but we can’t drive them.”
A major part of the issue surrounding Uber and other ride-share apps like Careem, an Uber competitor native to the country, is also an intersection between class and affordability. According to a 2015 article by The Los Angeles Times, while “the apps have increased the mobility of and given a measure of independence to women who would otherwise have to rely on a male to ferry them around,” cost also plays a huge factor, “with prices starting at about $5 a ride.”
“Even proponents concede it is not a solution for the poor,” the report added.
While pricing is an issue unto itself, others see it as yet another diversion from the real issue at hand.
“Uber is great project for sure,” said Rana, an employee at a communications firm. “Here we pay [a lot] to get foreign drivers and I think in the current economic problem we need to save that money — but that has nothing to do with the fight to drive.”
Indeed, the fight against the driving ban in Saudi Arabia is an indisputably uphill battle. As BuzzFeed noted, two women who spoke out against the driving restrictions placed on women in the peninsular kingdom were apprehended by authorities and subsequently tried in a court specifically designed to eke out suspected terrorists in 2014.
“What prevents us from driving isn’t the cost of the car or the taxi,” Rana continued. “We are facing the religious men. Uber isn’t stronger than religious men here.”
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