Uber is working to ensure the safety of its female drivers in Saudi Arabia.
The ride-hailing app has rolled out a new feature that allows female drivers to choose to pick up only female passengers. The program, called Women Preferred View, originated from requests by female drivers, who are slowly gaining more rights in the kingdom — even though they’re still largely segregated from men. Women were banned from driving until June 2018.
A spokesperson for Uber tells Global Citizen that this is part of an initiative launched last year "aimed toward empowering women with economic opportunities by providing accessible transport solutions. We have seen an incredible response in the Kingdom thus far. As part of this initiative, this newly introduced feature will open new doors and opportunities for women as Uber driver-partners, while being conscientious of local cultural norms."
Adds Tino Waked, general manager of Uber Middle East and North Africa: “We launched this feature in response to the feedback we received from women drivers in Saudi Arabia and we are committed to always being thoughtful of how we can always improve their experience driving on the app. This is just the start, and we will continue working with experts to leverage our external research as we move forward to ensure that this is in the best interest of women driver-partners in the Kingdom.”
Some 74% of women drivers in Saudi Arabia have expressed that they only wish to drive other women.
There is still work to be done to give women more rights. Saudi Arabia still has a male guardianship system, requiring women to receive written permission from a man to attend school, work, or travel. Twelve women's rights activists were recently jailed in the kingdom following their protests against the former driving ban and the male guardianship system. This comes a week after the Saudi government released three detained women’s rights activists.
Uber has no plans to roll out this feature to other markets, even though the ride hailing company (and its competitor, Lyft) has come under fire in the US from customers and lawmakers over safety concerns. Women have been mugged, assaulted, and even killed after getting into unmarked vehicles, wrongly assuming it was their Uber or Lyft driver. In South Carolina, a bill was recently passed requiring cars to display an illuminated sign in their windows.
A MoveOn.org petition urging Lyft and Uber to allow female drivers to choose the sex of their passengers has gotten more than 14,000 signatures. But at least one advocate has said this feature could actually allow men to prey on female drivers by misrepresenting their genders.
Uber addressed safety concerns in its initial public offer filing last week. It plans to release a safety-transparency report sometime in 2019. The report is in response to a CNN investigation that found 103 Uber drivers in 20 major US cities have been accused of abusing or sexually assaulting their passengers. More than 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes like rape, false imprisonment, and forcible touching, the investigation found, and many of the victims are pursuing further legal action.
I’ve heard calls for a similar option in the U.S. Not to be a downer, but my concern would be men building fake accounts to lure female drivers to remote areas. This feature could be great, but needs to be thought through. https://t.co/AiTr4t6PEl— Maya Salam (@Maya__Salam) April 17, 2019
"You are pretty much hitchhiking with strangers," a woman who says she was sexually abused by a driver told CNN. "How many people is it going to take to get assaulted before something is done?"