Monday, 25 June 2018

Female taxi drivers hit Saudi Arabia’s streets after ban ends.

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Female taxi drivers in Saudi Arabia have picked up their first customers, after the country scrapped its ban on women getting behind the wheel. Ride-hailing service Careem had nearly a dozen female drivers – or ‘capitanahs’, as they’ve been dubbed – ready to pick up riders on Sunday, when King Salman’s decree legalising women drivers came into effect. Women were banned from driving in the ultra-conservative country from 1957 up until September last year. It was the only country left in the world where women could not drive.

The first licenses were issued to women earlier this month, and both Careem and global ride-hailing behemoth Uber vowed to employ female drivers after the ban had been lifted. Reem Farahat, one of Careem’s 12 new drivers, spoke of her joy at being able to drive as she prepared to pick up her first passengers on Sunday. ‘This morning, when I got in the car, I felt the tears coming. I pulled the car over and cried. I could not believe that we now drive…it’s a dream. I thought it would be totally normal, I’d just get in the car and go. I was surprised by my own reaction.’ ‘I’m doing this because I can. Because someone has to start,’ she added.

Seventy percent of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women – a figure largely attributable to the kingdom’s now-obsolete female driving ban. Uber puts its equivalent figure closer to 80 percent. Ms Farahat’s first ride, Leila Ashry, said she couldn’t believe she was being picked up by a woman. ‘This automatically feels a lot safer. Being a female and dealing with sexism on a day-to-day basis. There’s just something about it that feels wonderful. But it’s not only that. It’s also women joining the workforce,’ she said.

Since September, around 2,000 Saudi women ranging in age from 20 to 60 have applied to get Careem licenses. Uber plans to introduce women drivers to their service this autumn. Careem co-founder Abdulla Elyas said: ‘They [the applicants] come from completely different backgrounds. We have women who have degrees […] We have women who have no degree at all. We have women who want to do this full time. We have women who want to do this part time (for) an additional income.’ Advertisement if(window.adverts) { adverts.addToArray({"pos": "mpu_mobile_mid"}) } Advertisement if(window.adverts) { adverts.addToArray({"pos": "mpu_tablet_mid"}) } Most of those who had been licensed by Sunday like Ms Farahat had permits from foreign countries, enabling them to skip driving courses and take the final exam for a Saudi license. The ‘captainahs’ can pick up any customer – man or woman – and both driver and rider have the right to end the ride at any point. Ahead of Sunday’s decree, charity Amnesty International called for wide-ranging women’s rights reforms – reporting that eight prominent activists in the ‘women to drive’ movement are being detained and face long prison sentences for their advocacy. Dozens of women were arrested for driving in Riyadh in 1990 and some Saudi women began posting videos of themselves at the wheel in 2008, and between 2011 and 2014.

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