It was a proud and historic moment for women in Saudi Arabia last Sunday when they were officially – and legally – allowed to drive vehicles in the country. It is reported that hundreds – if not more – came out to take their cars out for a spin in the capital city of Riyadh and had big smiles on their faces throughout. And it is reported that the economy of the country too could well be smiling in the years to come by letting them drive.
According to a report in Bloomberg, the move to allow women to drive could add $90 billion to the economic output of the country by 2030. That would be close to selling 5 per cent stake in Saudi Aramco. At a time when the country is reeling with the prospect of a possible economic slowdown and its overdependence on oil threatening to pull it down after decades of extravaganze, $90 billion could well be a massive figure even in the context of the ultra-rich and ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.
The report goes on to point out that the contribution of women in Saudi Arabia’s labour force is next to negligible with only 20 per cent of women in the country economically active. The country has already made increasing participation of women in economic activities one of its key objectives by 2030 to reach closer to the Gulf average of 43 per cent. While the economic benefits of allowing women to participate more may, therefore, be plenty, the social advantages are a given.
Human rights and women activists have long been demanding for more for women in the country. Many see allowing women to drive as a sort of a victory while others feel a lot more has to be done. For now though, Saudi women would be seeing their driving license as a fresh lease of life and with access to wheels, an increased mobility and increase in activities are expected to rise several notches.