SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia Spends A Fortune Keeping Women Off The Road

Citizens of the wealthy Gulf kingdom spend almost $4 billion a year on foreign drivers, a new report claims

SAUDI ARABIA
"The community is not convinced about women driving." — REUTERS
Apr 28, 2016 at 3:55 PM ET

Saudi Arabia’s ban on women motorists is helping to fuel a multi-billion dollar industry of imported drivers, a pro-government newspaper claims. And households across the Gulf kingdom are the ones footing the bill.

Al-Riyadh newspaper reported this week that there are now approximately 800,000 foreign chauffeurs who shuttle families across the kingdom, a nation that, as of 2010, had only 19 million citizens and an average household size of about six. These hired hands don’t come cheap either. Because of strict immigration laws, Saudi families are the ones required to shell out for their drivers’ visas, housing, insurance, salaries, uniforms and other incidentals. All told, the price tag for foreign drivers comes out to about $3.7 billion a year, according to figures compiled by Al-Riyadh columnist Rashid Mohammed al-Fawzan.

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The large number of private drivers—and the accompanying sticker shock—is emblematic of the kinds of lavish perks many inside the oil-rich kingdom have enjoyed for decades. They’re also one indicator of the financial impact of laws banning women from taking the wheel themselves. Saudi Arabia is now the only place left in the world that imposes such restrictions.

Though there’s been an increased clamor to lift the ban on women drivers, Saudi officials remain adamant that won’t happen any time soon. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, one of the kingdom’s most powerful figures, said this week that Saudi Arabia was still not ready for women to drive, a remark he made just a day after unveiling a sweeping plan of social and economic reforms.

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“Women driving is not a religious issue as much as it is an issue that relates to the community itself that either accepts it or refuses it,” he said. “The community is not convinced about women driving.”