Uber is hiring its first female drivers in Saudi Arabia in preparation for the lifting of a driving ban on women in June, the company said on Thursday.
As well as the car-hailing service, its Dubai-based counterpart, Careem, is also recruiting women as drivers in the Gulf Kingdom, the company has said.
The Saudi ban on women driving has long been an international criticism leveled at the country’s wealthy ruling elite.
“The law allows the women to drive in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia so this can be applied with Careem, so there is no issue for women to apply with Careem,” a spokesperson for the company said.
Uber did not respond to a request for comment.
At present, all drivers at the two firms are men, the majority of them Saudi nationals driving their private vehicles to earn extra revenue, according to company statistics.
Before the ban is lifted in June, women continue to face arrest and prison time for driving cars.
Women account for 80 percent of Uber’s entire client base in the ultraconservative country that is governed by a radical strand of Islam known as Wahhabism. They also account for 70 percent of the clientele of Careem.
That company has initiated 90-minute training sessions in the Saudi cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar in a bid to train women who have already acquired driving licenses abroad.
It trains them in Saudi road law and how to use the company’s platform.
Women are restricted from doing many of the things that men can do in the country, such as participate in sports alongside men, swim in the same pools as men, open bank accounts or leave the house without the permission of a male guardian.
King Salman lifted the ban on women driving in September in a decision lauded around the world by activists and foreign governments.
The lifting of the ban is part of the modernisation project of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, believed by many to be the future leader of the country.
He has initiated “Vision 2030” in a bid to integrate women more greatly into the Saudi economy, and to diversify it away from oil dependence.