Automotive in the Middle East – is there a place for women?

Automotive in the Middle East – is there a place for women?
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Once flogged for driving, now able to drive legally – what is the situation for women in the Middle East when it comes to motoring? Check it out!

Conservatism in the Middle East

Although it has improved somewhat in recent years, the situation in the Middle East is still dramatic. At issue here is the conservative attitude of men and laws towards women. An example? Ladies graduate, but they can only dream about a job. Their place is at home. This patriarchal system is not only a torment for women, but also a great loss for the economy of countries located in this part of the world. It seems that every year the losses amount to trillions of dollars. The economies of these countries are not in good shape (not counting Saudi Arabia). Many countries are doing their best to improve their budgets. Still, no one thinks about encouraging women to work, and certainly no help for a working woman who is raising a child at the same time. How does this look in the case of automobiles? The most dramatic was in Saudi Arabia – can a woman even get behind the wheel there?

Flogging for driving a car

A beastly situation took place in 2010 in Jeddah, when a woman named Shema got behind the wheel without a driving license. It was supposed to be a form of protest addressed to the government to finally do something about the right of women who cannot drive a car. This was because at that time it was not possible. The court of course granted the men’s request and punished the woman with 10 strokes of the whip. A thing unthinkable in other countries and parts of the world. Unfortunately, such a punishment does not surprise anyone there. A year earlier, a 13-year-old girl who brought a camera phone to school was sentenced to 90 lashes. Fortunately, the situation has begun to change. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia allowed women to cast ballots in elections – the first time was in 2015. Then came the time for automobiles.

Can women drive?

Yes – it happened in 2018, and this time the decree was issued by King Salman, who likely bowed to a wave of protests. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world where women could not drive cars. This changed in the year stated above. It benefited the ladies, but also the car manufacturers. Already after the issuance of the decree, but even before its actual entry into force, advertising campaigns of large automotive companies began. No wonder, after all, a completely new customer entered the market, which was an unprecedented situation. In one day, more than 8 million potential car buyers appeared. The fastest to take the floor were Ford and Volkswagen, while Nissan also expressed its satisfaction on Twitter.

Women professional drivers?

As we wrote above, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world where women could not obtain a driving license. In other countries of the Middle East such restrictions did not take place. So there was nothing to prevent women from participating in rallies. Of course, this was a rarity; when they did appear, they did not achieve extraordinary success. The exception was Abir Batikhi, who in 2008 took part in the rally included in the classification of the World Cup, it was the Jordan Rally. The woman was among 11 Jordanian teams entered in the race. Abir has been one of the standout drivers in this desert country – she has won several lower ranked races. Interestingly, she competed in the Jordan Rally against the all-famous Sébastien Loeb. At the time, he was competing for a record 40th victory in the World Championship series.

There is no doubt that automotive development is growing in the Middle East. Women are also becoming more and more prominent in these countries. Abir Batikhi, about whom we wrote, is an example, as well as the lifting of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. This is a great opportunity for young girls who have always dreamed of fast cars, but have not had the opportunity to train. Who knows, maybe in the near future we will see one of the Arab women on the route of a professional race?


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