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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Saudi Arabia's $90 billion boost from women drivers

Economists say that with driving comes independence that will feed into the wider economy

Nada Edlibi holds up her Saudi Arabian driver's license on the first day that she is legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Nada Edlibi holds up her Saudi Arabian driver's license on the first day that she is legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Allowing Saudi women to drive could help the kingdom reap as much income as selling shares in Saudi Aramco.

The move, which went into effect on Sunday, could add as much as $90 billion to economic output by 2030, with the benefits extending beyond that date, according to Bloomberg Economics. Selling as much as 5 per cent stake in Saudi Arabian Oil Co. - at the most optimistic valuation - could generate about $100 billion.

Saudi Arabia ended its status as the last country on earth to prohibit women from taking to the wheel.

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - JUNE 24: Fadya Fahad, 23, one of the first female drivers for Careem, a peer-to-peer ride sharing company similar to Uber, is seen in the driver's side mirror of a car she has rented on the first day she is legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Fadya lived in the United States, where she got her first license. ÒIt's so amazing,Ó she said of today. When asked what her parents thought about it, she sad: ÒThey are so proud. My father said I drive better than my brother.Ó Saudi Arabia has today lifted its ban on women driving, which had been in place since 1957. The Saudi government, under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, is phasing in an ongoing series of reforms to both diversify the Saudi economy and to liberalize its society. The reforms also seek to empower women by restoring them basic legal rights, allowing them increasing independence and encouraging their participation in the workforce. Saudi Arabia is among the most conservative countries in the world and women have traditionally had much fewer rights than men. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Fadya Fahad, 23, one of the first female drivers for Careem, a peer-to-peer ride sharing company similar to Uber, is seen in the driver's side mirror of a car she has rented on the first day she is legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

“Lifting the ban on driving is likely to increase the number of women seeking jobs, boosting the size of the workforce and lifting overall incomes and output,” according to Ziad Daoud, Dubai-based chief Middle East economist for Bloomberg Economics.

“But it’ll take time before these gains are realized as the economy adapts to absorbing a growing number of women seeking work.”

Ending the ban is one of the most socially-consequential reforms implemented by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It’s also a key part of his plan to veer the economy from its reliance on oil.

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Ziad Daoud, Bloomberg Economics, said, “The participation of women in Saudi Arabia’s labour market is poor. With only 20 per cent of females in Saudi Arabia economically active, the country even lags behind its neighbours in the Gulf, where participation averaged 42 per cent in 2016. Recognizing this, the Saudi administration made raising the female participation rate one of its main targets in the National Vision 2030 program, designed to modernize Saudi society.”

Adding 1 percentage point to the Saudi participation rate every year might add about 70,000 more women a year to the labour market, according to Daoud. The larger participation of women will lift potential economic growth by as much as 0.9 percentage points a year, “depending on the proportion that chooses to work full or part-time,” he said.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said ending the ban means “women will be more empowered and more mobile and I think they will participate more in the job market over time, so I think it’s going to contribute to the employment of females in Saudi Arabia.

“A secondary effect will probably be higher gasoline demand,” Al-Falih said in Vienna, where he was attending an OPEC meeting.