By Jacqueline Corba
For the first time in nearly three decades, women are allowed to get behind the wheel of a car in Saudi Arabia.
And while the change that went into effect Sunday may be a step forward for women's rights in the kingdom, it is also an economic move.
"The driving ban being lifted has been one in a set of limited economic and social reforms aimed specifically at making women good workers and good consumers," Human Rights Watch Acting Saudi Researcher Hiba Zayadin told Cheddar Monday. "With the drop in oil prices Saudi's strategy now is to shift the economy away from an over-dependence on oil."
And to do that, it means getting women to work.
Saudi Arabia's workforce is currently only 22 percent female, though women account for about 45 percent of the total population. PwC estimates that the number of female drivers will reach 3 million within two years, and if those women are better able to look for employment, that's going to have an impact. In fact, allowing women to drive will add $90 billion to Saudi Arabia's economy by 2030, according to Bloomberg Economics.
But getting everybody on board may not be so easy. The move, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has some afraid of backlash from men reluctant to adopt more western norms. And many who champion equality reportedly remain detained for taking such a stance.
"The women's rights activists currently behind bars should be out there celebrating as well," said Zayadin. "What you are seeing on the news is women smiling with drivers licenses, but at the same time people are afraid to show solidarity for the women behind bars."
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