Affording women the right to drive would give the Saudi Arabian economy a massive boost, according to a leading economist.
John Sfakianakis, chief economist at SABB bank, said the move would increasing the purchasing power of Saudi families that no longer have to employ chauffeurs, Saudi daily Arab News reported on Saturday.
Sfakianakis said allowing women to drive would also cause a shift in the ownership of vehicles, increase car sales and open up new markets for the automobile industry and those serving it.
“It is only logical that the lifting of the driving ban would create a chance for the opening up of so many different markets,” Sfakianakis told the newspaper, pointing to women’s driving schools, gas stations and vehicle spare parts suppliers as businesses that would benefit if the ban were lifted.
“I feel the government would also gain financially from a lift on the ban through the issuance of licenses and auto insurance contracts,” he added.
Women are currently barred from drive in the kingdom for fears it would bring them into contact with men they are not directly related to. Saudi women are not allowed to be alone in the company of a man that she is not related to.
Also, women cannot currently travel without the written permission of their male guardian, who could be the woman's grandfather, father, uncle, husband, son or brother.
Woman are allowed to be chauffeured around by a hired driver who is not a male guardian, but some say that allowing this defeats the argument that letting women to drive would bring them into contact with men they are not directly related to.
Despite the driving ban it is estimated that around 15% of cars in the kingdom are bought by women.
According to a report published in December by Saudi Aramco, car ownership among Saudi women climbed to 60% in 2006, taking the total number of automobiles owned by Saudi women to 120,334.
The ban has become more and more unpopular in the kingdom and there have been several unsuccessful campaigns to have the ruling overturned.
A Saudi woman activist even marked this year's International Women's Day by defying the ban and posted a video of her act on YouTube.
A report in the UK's Daily Telegraph in January claimed the government was preparing to lift the ban and a decree would be issued by the end of the year.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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