As women in Saudi Arabia were given the right to drive last year, the number of personal drivers was expected to drop — but that hasn't really been the case.
In fact, the latest figures compiled by the kingdom's General Authority for Statistics (GaStat) show a rise in the number of drivers working for Saudi families.
A report recently published by the authority revealed that by March 2019, there were 1.54 million foreign home drivers compared to 1.36 million in 2018 — a rise of 12.8 percent. The study also pointed out the fact that around 459 of those hired to work as drivers for Saudi families in the first quarter of 2019 are expat women.
However, the rest are expat men who are being hired as chauffeurs for local residents and families.
According to instructors at driving schools in the kingdom, "some Saudi families prefer women drivers over men out of fear that male drivers may harass and ill-treat their children."
This explains why many are now opting to hire foreign women to drive their families around. Some of the kingdom's families also choose to hire women drivers because they expect them to do the groceries and cover other domestic duties.
When it comes to Saudi women, instructors said that obtaining a driver's license doesn't mean they'll regularly be hitting the roads. They added that in a few years time, "when women become expert drivers, there will be a drop in the recruitment of foreign drivers."
Of course, the most recent statistics do not mean Saudi women aren't eager to drive. There are hundreds of thousands who are already driving in the kingdom.
Why the rise in chauffeurs if Saudi women can now drive?
Speaking to StepFeed, Anfal, a Saudi social worker, explained the reasons behind the unexpected rise in hired drivers even after women were granted their right to drive.
"The process of getting a driver's license isn't as fast as people expect and millions of Saudi women are still in the process of obtaining a license. They therefore need to hire someone to drive them around," she said.
"Another important point I noticed is that it's taking quite some time for Saudi families to get used to all the social changes around them, not all of them are open to the idea of women driving. This is why so many of us are struggling to get licenses and cars," she explained.
Anfal added that some men are forbidding their wives or daughters from driving, and are therefore hiring personal drivers.
"You also have to take into account that some women, especially those who are older in age are reluctant to learn how to drive and feel comfortable in being driven around. A few I worked with said they won't apply for licenses but will hire women to driver them around," she stated.