Saudi Women and Their Drivers


As I have said ever since starting this blog Saudi Arabia is full of contrasts and contradictions.  One such example is the issue of the mahrem and drivers.  If new to my blog and not aware, Saudi woman require a mahrem which is usually a male relative such as a father, brother or spouse and who acts as a male guardian.  This mahrem determines whether a woman can work, attend university, who she marries, whether she can have her own business and so on.  Concurrently it is also important to note that in addition to the need for a mahrem, a Saudi woman is not allowed to be unaccompanied with any unrelated male.  The male relatives with whom a woman is allowed to be with unaccompanied include father, brother, son, grandfather and uncle.


Yet a blatant exception to this rule is the Saudi woman and her driver.  Women can indeed own a car but cannot drive in Saudi Arabia so a driver is essential.  If the driver is not a “sanctioned” relative then a private driver is employed or public transport is utilized even though this contradicts the law of a Saudi woman being alone with an unsanctioned male.  Why is this allowed to happen and not viewed as a conflict?


I’ve spoken to both Saudi women and Saudi men on this disparity and the most frequent response given is “Oh, a driver is not a real man.” 


Naturally I ask “What do you mean he is not a real man?  I don’t think he’s a robot.”


It’s explained to me that because drivers are generally guest workers from countries such as Phillipines, Indonesian, Pakistan, India, Sudan and not Saudis, they are not viewed as men who pose a threat to the reputation of the woman.  In the eyes of many Saudi women (and Saudi men) the driver is in essence viewed as “invisible.” However I was also told that a Saudi woman would unlikely enter a vehicle with an unrelated Saudi or Yemeni driver due to cultural prohibitions.  Yemen is close enough to Saudi Arabia in culture and tribal relations that most (not all) Saudi women would not ride alone with a Yemeni.


I have mixed feelings on this aspect of the culture and its contradictions.  Naturally I have to use a driver since it’s not only Saudi women who are prohibited from driving in the Kingdom.  And I can say that in spite of keeping distance some form of a relationship will develop between a woman and her driver.  The driver will become attuned and accustomed to her moods. 


In some cases a driver has become a confidant of women.  He may take her places where a “sanctioned” relative may not want to take her or get her things that a “sanctioned” relative may not want her to have or be able to get her.


Drivers in the Kingdom are very resourceful and most quickly learned the lesson of discretion.  If one needs something done or wants to find something, ask a driver.  If they have been in the Kingdom for any amount of time they usually know.  For example if one is seeking a housemaid, ask a driver.  He’ll usually know of whose available (legal or not).


So I guess this post could be summed up as saying a Saudi woman may view her driver as invisible yet essential.


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