Excellent article by Sabria Jawhar on the reality of working Saudi women and transportation. You can link to the story in the August 7, 2014 Arab News here, and the article is pasted in below.
One of the hard lessons Saudi women learn when they get a new job in the
private sector is the attitude among employers. They are told: “you got
a job, the rest is up to you.”
More plainly put, female employees
are required to show up at work on time and leave at the appropriate
hour at the end of the workday. If you must do work-related errands
during business hours, then find your own transportation.
women from well-to-do families and working at high-level jobs can live
with these requirements. They have their own drivers. But for the rest
of us, those middle-class women who can’t afford to sponsor a full-time
driver or don’t have access to a full-time driving service, it’s almost
impossible to reliably arrive to work on time and leave at a reasonable
hour at the end of the day.
There are many private employers — and I
have run into plenty — that may offer company drivers to female
employees only to pull the rug from underneath them when the time comes
to actually drive women around.
A common method among some employers
is to insist that the female worker and the driver work out a schedule
between themselves. Yet many drivers loathe the idea of driving women
from their homes to work, and then pick them up at the end of the day.
Worse, they often become unavailable during working hours. Their
attitude is they drive female employees to and from work at their
convenience and not the workers.
It’s never a matter of “I won’t
drive you” but rather simply not answering the phone or claiming a
scheduling conflict. Employers prefer not to get involved, so the
transportation issues disintegrates into a cat-and-mouse game where
women workers are reduced to using a male colleague’s mobile phone so
her so-called driver will pick up the phone, or catch him napping in an
empty office somewhere in the building and making an awkward
face-to-face demand. This daily exercise becomes so exhausting that the
idea of hailing a smelly cab from a street corner is easier.
disclosure: My employer contracts a private limousine company to take me
anywhere I want to go. I no longer endure the indignity of begging
drivers for transportation.)
The attitude of drivers in Saudi Arabia
has changed dramatically in the past decade. Drivers, who were once
prompt, courteous and respectful to female passengers has evolved an
attitude that shows they are doing women a favor by simply allowing them
in the back seat of their car.
The Ministry of Labor has a pretty
good handle on the dilemma faced by female workers. No one realistically
believes that Saudi women will receive the right to drive a car in the
near future. At the same time more women are entering the workforce only
to find that lack of transportation is not only hindering their work
performance, but also encouraging them to stay at home rather than find
employment. This will eventually have a significant impact on the
To solve the problem, the Labor Ministry now
requires employers to provide transportation to Saudi women workers.
Al-Sayyda Khadija Bint Khuwailid Center, which is part of Jeddah Chamber
of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), conducted a study that found that 48
percent of Saudi women workers employ private drivers while 26 percent
use the men in their families to drive them to work. Only12 percent use
taxis and just 4 percent of the women use private minibuses owned by
So about half of the female workforce is without
reliable transportation since using a dad or brother to act, as a
chauffeur is hardly considered reliable.
The Labor Ministry has
managed to do a lot to get employers in line since its crackdown on
undocumented workers last year. It has successfully integrated retail
shops with women workers and continues to find ways to make it easier
for Saudi women to get hired in the private sector.
Their program to
require employers to provide transportation is a logical step to keep
women in the workplace. Enforcement, however, remains a sticking point
if employers continue to take a passive attitude by not requiring their
drivers to be available. Still, the Labor Ministry over the past year
has been consistent in its directives, and women just might see a
positive change in how their employers handle their transportation
Sabria's e-mail: email@example.com