Why Should Women Drive in Saudi Arabia? Here’s Another Reason: the Economy.

A blog about business and economics.
Oct. 28 2013 12:53 PM

Why Should Women Drive in Saudi Arabia? Here’s Another Reason: the Economy.

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A Saudi woman and her children get into a taxi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

Matthew Yglesias is on vacation.

Over the weekend, brave women in Saudi Arabia protested the country’s prohibition on female driving cars by buckling up and getting behind the wheel anyway. The idea that women driving is somehow un-Islamic has been largely debunked, even by some Saudi leaders within the country. Yet, the government in catering to the wishes of a conservative population (or a portion of it), refuses to issue driving licenses to women, even though there’s no law technically prohibiting it.

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Putting aside the clear moral arguments on prohibiting women from driving, there’s another reason—the economy. Giving women in Saudi Arabia the freedom of movement simply to get to work would help boost the country’s economy. According to a survey done by Oxford Strategic Consulting last year, the benefits of more women in the workplace would be significant.

Here’s what they found:

This is a significant economic, social and cultural opportunity. We calculate that raising female workforce participation in KSA to ca. 40% (still lower than most G20 economies) could increase GDP by ca. $17 billion per annum whilst it could add $58bn in revenues to Saudi companies as well as significant increases in productivity, engagement and innovation.

Helping women get to work would be a good start in a country looking to diversify its petro-economy. Saudi Arabia has made some inroads in loosening its restrictions on women in society, allowing them to vote in certain elections, take up leadership roles in the country’s Shura council, as well as providing greater opportunities in higher education.

Once in the workplace, there will still be challenges for Saudi women. Currently, up to 96 percent of women in the country work as teachers in government schools. The government reportedly wants to move women into the private sector, but that poses challenges of its own, as the Financial Times reports, “many small and medium-sized businesses cannot afford to hire women, because of the costs of complying with government segregation rules. These include having a separate female entrance and bathrooms, and a security guard to stop men entering areas designated female-only.”

Giving Saudi women the power to get to work on their own, however, seems like a reasonable place to start.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.