Driving toward leadership


Saudi Gazette

DRIVING is key to a more independent life and is one of many changes women are looking forward to in the Kingdom.

Saudi society has been witnessing a transformation from extreme conservatism to more openness recently.

“Driving will allow me to be independent and not rely on a man, which was degrading,” says Badriah Alsari. “I never had a driver so I get around in taxis or on foot.”

Being brought up in a tribe, she says in the past it was unheard of to live on her own as a single mother with her children or pursue her work as a writer and publish her name.

“I am from the 1980’s generation that went through tough times,” she says. “Women during that period struggled. Now, however, everything has changed. I look forward to become one of the first to drive and the other advancements for women.”

Other developments such as the introduction of women’s sports and further participation in the labor force have changed Saudi society than what it was in the past.

Fitness trainer Fatima Batook said she never imagined she would be able to open her own gym, Studio 55. In 2013, the health club she was working in closed down because it was not permitted. Most health facilities operated under a beauty salon, making it challenging for women to find places to exercise. Two years later, she was able to quit her full-time corporate job and found her own gym.

“After all the changes come into place, everything now is easy,” she says. “In the past, everything that seemed like common sense, such as exercise, was questioned and was a struggle even though we were exercising in women-only facilities and in the appropriate manner. In a couple of years, life has changed. Now it’s no longer about just opening gyms but something bigger like getting women into the Olympics and having a woman — Princess Reema Bint Bandar — heading the General Sports Authority. That put us on the map. It’s a big change.”

Batook was recently invited with a panel of female role models to speak about leadership during Women in Leadership Forum hosted by Abdul Latif Jameel Motors in Jeddah on Wednesday.

She addressed a hall packed with female visitors that women now need to embrace self-confidence. “Confidence is the key to overcome self-doubt and taking a proper step forward to becoming a leader,” she added.

During the event, a bustling crowd of women gathered to view the cars displayed and take pictures at a virtual simulation of a vehicle cruising in Tahliah Street.

Careem’s manager in Jeddah, Hashim Lary, further announced that the company is planning to train 20,000 woman drivers, or “captains”, by 2020. The news was received with fervent applause.

Several women showed interest in becoming captains. Many others said they would prefer riding a Careem with a female driver in the future.

However, many women say they are still concerned about road safety, making them hesitant in driving this year.

Despite many women who are excited to look at the cars displayed in the showroom and try sitting in the driver’s seat, not many have been sincerely considering buying a car, according to Suad Al-Aamri who is part of the first batch of women working at Abdul Latif Jameel in the sales division for the last two months.There are currently 26 women employees who received intensive training.

She says, “There was a modest number of women who approached me about their interest in buying a car and asking about the price and specifications. I think many are hesitant.”

Women starting to drive and other progress in women’s liberation are impacting Saudi society that remains relatively conservative, according to family counselor Dr. Zuhra Al-Moubi.

“As many changes are occurring in the Kingdom, it’s a turbulent time for families to adjust,” she says. “Some are worried and confused. Some parents are fearful that in an open society, their kids will go off track and do things against our culture and values. What should be done, however, is making sure they teach their kids the real values that will make them secure and be able to adjust to the new changes smoothly. Then, there’s nothing to worry about.”