The ride-sharing app Uber announced this week it was receiving a $3.5 billion investment from the Saudi State’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which marks the biggest injection of money the company has gotten yet. The news has raised debate over a domestic public policy related to the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia.

In this March 29, 2014, file photo, Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. Credit: AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File.

The Kingdom is the only place in the world where women cannot apply for a driving license, meaning that they are not allowed to drive. This is mostly due to the very conservative notion of Islam rights. While some religious figures have suggested that driving can have a severe impact on women’s ovaries, others say the interaction between a female driver and a male rider might be inappropriate.

It will be interesting to see how the country welcomes such a significant support to the Silicon Valley firm, which has clearly shown its opinion on the matter.

“Of course, we think women should be allowed to drive,” Uber spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker told the New York Times earlier this week.

She added that even when female drivers are banned in the country, the company is proud to claim that it had provided mobility in a way that was not possible before Uber arrived there. Because there are so many restrictions for women in Saudi Arabia, the ride-hailing app and its competitors offer a tool that allows them to feel more independent.

It is not easy to find a regular taxi when they need it the most, and public transportation is rather precarious. Besides, a large number of families are not able to hire a private driver to take women places without any other family member so they can have some sense of autonomy.

As a consequence, 80 percent of Uber riders in Saudi Arabia are women, as declared by the company. For its part, some women take five to 10 rides with local Uber rival Career and such traffic is not seen anywhere else, as founder Mudassir Sheika told the Los Angeles Times last year.

Saudi Arabian Women Use Uber Because of Driving Ban. Credit: Pop Sugar.

Uber’s efforts to openly support women rights in the kingdom were seen last December when Saudi women were offered free Uber rides during the first election the law enabled them to vote. A representative for the firm said that this week’s move would not limit whatsoever Uber female drivers in the United States or other territories where women can legally drive as reported by The Washington Post.

The Saudi royal family has made known their wish to see women driving legally in the kingdom, but little or action has been taken to achieve this. Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently said that women have no access to the complete rights Islam grants them, according to the report by The Washington Post. But also has the country still far from accepting the fact that women should be allowed to drive just like their male counterparts.

The big investment came just in time to help Uber fight competitors

The $3.5 billion investment represents a significant opportunity for Uber to fight competitors, especially in China, where Didi Chucking has received more than $5 billion from large investors such as Apple, Tencent Holdings Ltd., and Alibaba Group.

Saudi Arabia’s injection of cash will also help Uber subsidize the rides’ low cost, especially since the company introduces its ride-sharing service in new areas.

Source: Washington Post