Uber has received $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s investment fund, the company’s largest ever cash influx from a single investor. Incidentally, Saudi Arabia is the only country on Earth that doesn’t allow women to drive.
The app is now valued at nearly $68 billion, which it’s hoping will be enough to maintain its supremacy in the increasingly crowded ride-share field. Though Uber has a strong lead over its U.S. competitors, it faces formidable competition overseas, and the Middle East is one such region where it aims to dominate.
“We appreciate the vote of confidence in our business as we continue to expand our global presence,” Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, said in a statement. “Our experience in Saudi Arabia is a great example of how Uber can benefit riders, drivers and cities and we look forward to partnering to support their economic and social reforms.”
These social reforms, it seems, will not include granting women the right to a driver’s license. In fact, the increased prevalence of Uber could easily be used as a mechanism to further keep that privilege at bay. As Rebecca Lindland, who lived in the kingdom for more than two years, wrote over at Forbes:
Now, the government can point to Uber as another means for women to get around and as another reason why women don’t need to drive, failing to mention the significant out of pocket expenses as well as the time required to arrange and wait for an Uber, if one is willing to come to your location. A friend there told me his sister, an accomplished physician, would sometimes not be able to get to the hospital in an emergency because a taxi wouldn’t show up in the wee hours of the morning. She eventually got a driver and bought her own car – yes, women can buy and even register cars in the Kingdom. She can save your life, she just can’t drive a car.
A key goal of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan is to increase the number of women in the workforce from 22 to 30 percent, though of course, the newly employed women will also have to negotiate the additional, hefty cost of transportation.
And it goes without saying that one potential income source they won’t be privy to anytime soon is actually driving an Uber, a shame considering the company currently employs 19,000 drivers in the Middle East. Moreover, female passengers won’t soon enjoy the relative peace of mind that would come with a female driver. From Lindland:
I was never brave enough to try Uber – there were too many horror stories of women who used taxi services and were either molested, groped, or left on the side of the road.