Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The dilemma of women: Costly transportation

Laura Bashraheel of the Saudi Gazette interviews Saudi women about the inconvenience and expense of hiring and keeping a driver. A link to her story is here,  and the story is pasted below.

A woman gets into a taxi outside a shopping mall in Riyadh. — AFP photo

Laura Bashraheel
Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Since women are not allowed to drive in the Kingdom, driving has become a highly lucrative profession for some men. Summertime and Ramadan are peak seasons for independent drivers and companies who charge between SR30-50 per hour or per drop-off. Mohammed Ali, a driver who works for a private car company in Jeddah, said that he earns SR3000 a month, while he would earn SR2000 as a private driver for a family. He feels that it is “better to work for a company as salaries are better.”

Fatima Ibraheem, a 28-year-old employee in a private company, said that she does not have a driver and as such has no other option but to use independent drivers. “I paid SR600 for a driver to drop me off and pick me up from work, six days a week until recently. My office is near Palestine St. but my driver told me he couldn’t drive me there anymore because he doesn’t have clients in that area. He prefers to stay within the Rawdah/Tahliah area where he can make more money,” she explained.

Fatima estimates that he makes a minimum of SR400 a day. “He works 18 hours a day and pays only SR400 a month for his rent. He refused to become my personal driver on a monthly salary of SR2,000. That’s why it’s so hard to find a driver nowadays,” she added.

Nadia Sayed, a 31-year-old teacher, is also suffering as she cannot find a suitable driver. She has no brothers and her father does not have the time to provide transportation to and from her workplace. “In the past drivers used to charge SR1,200 a month but now they realized how profitable this profession can be,” she said.

Nadia added that though she understands the complexity of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, she has not “heard of any research on why it’s impossible or what could be done for women to overcome the whole issue of transportation.”

After her driver left, Nadia contacted a car company, but was taken aback when the company told her that they would charge SR3,000 a month just to take her to and from work five days a week. Her transportation allowance is SR400 a month. According to her, finding a driver is much like operating in a black market.

Dana Alawi, a 28-year-old employee, urges the concerned authorities to release an official statement immediately on the status on women driving. “We have been waiting long for public transportation since we don’t know when we are going to be allowed to drive,” she said. Dana asserts that car companies “are always busy nowadays and it’s not safe to go with random drivers. Transportation for women in this country is one of the major dilemmas.”

Dana also said that she has been looking for a driver as Ramadan approaches but has yet to find an affordable one. Like Nadia, she feels “it’s like a black market for drivers — the higher you pay the more chances you might find one,” she said.

Saudi activists have been advocating for their right to drive with the most recent effort being the Women2Drive campaign launched in 2011. On its one-year anniversary, the campaign renewed its call for Saudi women to get behind the wheel and post videos of themselves driving to social media websites. However, the campaign didn’t create as much buzz as it did last year and there were only a few women who posted videos.