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Saudi Arabia job growth likely as woman driver ban ends

Saudi Arabia job growth likely as woman driver ban ends
Business
After more than 60 years spent stuck in the passenger seat, the Gulf kingdom s 15.1 million women can finally take control of the steering wheel when the ban on female drivers is lifted.

Accountancy firm PwC predicts that the number of women on Saudi Arabia s roads will swell to three million by 2020.

Thousands of women have signed up for driving lessons as new female-only programmes have sprung up.

However, those hoping for a quick shot in the arm for the Saudi economy - and its struggling car industry - will have to wait.

New car sales in Saudi Arabia fell 22.3% last year to 536,767 vehicles, according to Matt Gasnier, founder of bestsellingcarsblog.com, which gathers car sales data from manufacturers around the world.

Saudi Arabia fell into recession last year when GDP fell 0.5% due in large part to weaker oil output.

And Mr Gasnier says that the "very difficult" conditions that blighted Saudi Arabia in 2017 have continued into this year.

It may also take some time for enough driving schools that cater solely to women to be set up in Saudi Arabia, though when they are established they will "create a large number of job opportunities for female driving instructors", says PwC.

"It s not all going to happen on day one," says Crystal Worthem, marketing director in the Middle East and Africa for US carmaker Ford, which has set up a driving skills programme for women with Effat University in Jeddah.

She thinks that some Saudi women will take a wait-and-see approach to learning to drive, rather than jumping straight in.

It is like downloading new software for a mobile phone, says Ms Worthem: "You don t want to be the first to download it. You want to wait for three months so all the kinks and glitches have been ironed out."

It is not surprising that women from the ultra-conservative Gulf state are cautious.

Image caption Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is attempting to diversify Saudi Arabia s economy

While there was no formal ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia women, have been unable to obtain a driving licence. The policy has been in place since 1957 - though that will change on 24 June.

Last year, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a decree stating that the monarchy would start issuing driving licences for women.

His son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has set out a plan, called Vision 2030, to diversify the Saudi Arabian economy away from its dependence on oil.

This includes lowering the kingdom s unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7% and increase women s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.

A report by the Gulf Research Centre said that lifting the driving ban on women "may help them overcome some of the difficulties they face in accessing job opportunities".
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