Saudi women are allowed to drive and repair cars

published on Friday, June 3, 2022 at 6:52 AM

In a garage in Jeddah, Saudi women, with their hands in the mud, are repairing cars that four years ago were not allowed to drive.

While the government says it encourages women’s work in the highly conservative Muslim kingdom, their foray into a long-held male-dominated field is not always understood.

Ghada Ahmad, an employee of the garage where five women currently work alongside men, remembers a customer, an “old man”, who recently ordered all mechanics to get out and not approach his car. .

“It’s normal at first that he doesn’t trust us because I’m a woman,” said the 30-year-old mechanic, who wore a blue uniform and oil-stained white gloves. “It’s something new for them. After years of seeing only men, they see a woman coming.”

When she was still learning the basics of oil checking and changing tires, she too was assailed by doubt. “I was coming home with my hands swollen and crying and saying, ‘This job isn’t for me, they’re right,'” she said.

But the skills she gained and the more encouraging feedback from other clients boosted her confidence. “A man told me, ‘I’m very proud of you. You honor us,'” said the young woman, who said she loved interacting with customers.

Petromin, the large car service company that owns the garage in Jeddah (west), does not hesitate to promote it. Its vice-president, Tariq Javed, believes that “this initiative will encourage more women to join the car industry at all levels”.

– Husband’s green light –

The integration of women into the public sphere is part of the “Vision 2030”, the strategy of Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salmane, to redefine the image of his country as austere and to diversify an extremely oil-dependent economy.

In 2018, Saudi women were able to drive for the first time after decades of bans. But if he grants rights, the prince also carries out relentless repression against feminist activists who claim them.

The country has also relaxed the so-called “guardianship” rules that govern men’s authority over women in their families. Jeddah’s mechanics, however, say they never worked without their husband’s consent.

Before applying for the Snapchat job posting, Ola Flimban, then a housewife, says she sought the advice of her husband, Rafat, who helped her prepare for the interview by having her repeat. the name of the spare parts.

“Now she has experience with different types of vehicles, how to change the oil, how to inspect cars. She even inspects mine,” says Rafat Flimban.

In the garage, 44-year-old Ola Flimban also learned to respond to the most skeptical customers.

“They are surprised that girls are working in this field and ask us how we fell in love with it. That’s the most common question,” she said, explaining that she wanted to learn more about cars before driving. herself.

– “Relaxed customers” –

Arriving aboard his Nissan Altima, Mechaal, 20, admits he was “shocked” that his car was emptied of a woman before changing his mind. “If they’re there, it must mean they’re trained,” he said. “And maybe they understand my car better than I do.”

In any case, the feminization of the garage makes the drivers happier, more “relaxed” in contact with the mechanics, says Angham Jeddaoui, 30, who has been employed for six months.

“Some girls feel shy when they deal with men. They don’t know how to talk to them about what will be done to their car. With us, they feel free to talk,” she said.

For Angham Jeddaoui, this work is the culmination of a project she thought was impossible. “My dream was to enter the automotive industry, but for a Saudi woman it was not accessible. So when the opportunity presented itself, I immediately applied.”

This first experience encouraged her to take the road herself and prepare for her driver’s license. And “if I run into a problem in the middle of the road, I now know how to react.”


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