Why $3.5 Billion Cash For Uber Is Bad News To Saudi Women Drivers

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Jun 02 2016
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A key goal of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan is to increase the number of women in the workforce from 22% to 30%. The vision, which was announced by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month, is supposed to prepare the kingdom for an era in which it does not rely heavily on oil. There’s one problem though – Saudi women are not allowed to drive.


The only country on planet Earth which will not grant women a driver’s license nor recognize a license from another country, the latest news about Uber receiving a US$3.5 billion (£2.4 billion; RM14.6 billion) investment from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund has raised eyebrows. In a way, Uber has to thank the discrimination policy for the huge injection.

Uber Driver with Apps on Smartphone

Uber has been a presence in Saudi Arabia since 2014, and due to such restriction, 80% of its users are women. In the country, women aren’t allowed to drive and their travel is often restricted without the permission of a male guardian. To get around, women either hire private drivers or go through licensed taxi or limo companies to travel throughout the country’s major cities.


The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund says that its US$3.5 billion investment in Uber is a step toward furthering the country’s goal to diversify away from oil by 2030 and to incorporate more women in the workplace. But part of the hidden reasons for pumping billions into Uber is perhaps to continue banning women from driving.

Saudi Arabia Women Drivers - Inside Car

In November 2014, the then King Abdullah and his 150-member Shura Council had recommended to lift the long-standing ban on women drivers. However, the proposal was only applicable for women above 30-year-old, and they cannot wear makeup behind the wheel. On top of that, they must be off the road by 8 pm.


The proposal, which never get implemented after the death of the king, would have allowed women above 30-year-old to hit the road from 7 am to 8 pm on Saturday through Wednesday and 12 pm to 8 pm on Thursday and Friday. It appears the Saudi couldn’t let go of their privilege – control over their women – hence the ban on women drivers.

Saudi Women Taking A Taxi Ride

There’re talks (and more talks) that Saudi’s Shura Council may let their women drive after the year 2018. But with the latest investment in Uber, the government can always point to Uber as another means for women to get around and as another reason why women don’t need to drive. So, it could back to the square one – Saudi women may not get to drive beyond 2018 after all.


After all, US$3.5 billion is a small change for the rich kingdom. It was money well spent if the men could continue to control their women. Ironically, a Saudi woman can buy and even register cars in the kingdom. She just can’t drive a car. Eventually, a woman desires to work in a corporate kingdom of Saudi will need to get a driver.

Saudi King Abdullah and Women

For working women who couldn’t afford a car and a driver, the only choice is to negotiate for additional hefty cost of transportation during job interview. Saudi’s investment in Uber, however, doesn’t mean Uber can hire more women drivers. What this means is Saudi women will still subject to risks of being molested, raped or robbed by male drivers.


Still, the US$3.5 billion investment from the kingdom’s main investment fund is now seen as a slap on its own face after the Saudi Arabia’s threat to sell off US$750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States – in retaliation to the U.S. Congress attempt to reveal the secrets of September 11 terrorist attacks.

Saudi Arabia Oil Production - Oil on Currency

In reality, Saudi Arabia has nowhere to invest but United States as far as technology companies are concerned. Besides black oil, the kingdom can produce virtually nothing from its soil. However, as Saudi desperately rushing against time to grow US$2 trillion of its petro-dollar, their investment could go bust if they make a wrong decision.


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