Saudi Women and Their Drivers

In Saudi Arabia you can tell a lot about a woman by her relationship with her driver. Yes I call it a relationship. Because, unlike anywhere in the world, drivers are a necessity and not a luxury that is used on a whim. A driver here knows his employer’s (or charge, depending on how conservative the family is) every single habit. Is she punctual or late? How social she is and who calls her and whom does she call. And depending on the size of the car, he probably even knows the smell of her morning breath. Her moods, shopping habits and favorite drink are common knowledge to not only her own driver but also to the neighbors’ drivers. Just as an example of how suffocatingly close a driver is, when my husband cannot reach me on my cell phone, he contacts the driver because wherever I am, the driver will of course be there too.

With someone that close, a relationship has to evolve. For some of my friends, it is a nurturing relationship. Just as long ago when people had horses and at stops the first thing they would do is make sure that the horse is put in a stable and provided with nourishment, these friends first make sure that the driver is let in to wait in the little cramped host’s driver room. Some even go as far as to prepare at home before going out tea in a thermos and some snacks for the driver to enjoy while he waits. When I ask them why go to all that trouble? They tell me that they cannot afford another runaway so they’re trying to make the job as pleasurable and easy as possible.

Others have a more master- slave relationship. They scream at their drivers. I’ve personally witnessed a woman hit her driver when he made a wrong turn. And if you try to comment they’ll say he should thank God that I’m willing to give him a job. Ironically, these women always end up with the loyal drivers who stick around for years. The driver that I witnessed being hit stayed with that employer for over 14 years.

And then there are the delusional, who try to ignore the presence of another human being in the car as much as they can. They gab on their phones and get in and out of the car just barely informing the driver of the destination. When they get there, they leave the car with no instructions as though the driver is just another auto part that will be there with the rest of the car when they finish their errand or visit.

No matter what type of relationship it is, the bottom line is pure unadulterated frustration. Why do we have to put up with this? Why do we have to fork out salaries and accommodations? Why do we have to figure out if we should let the driver wait outside or cruise around Riyadh on our gas money every time we reach a destination?

18 Comments

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18 responses to “Saudi Women and Their Drivers

  1. Another great post! The fact that women cannot drive here obviously puts a strain on the family’s budget and has created so many unnecessary jobs which bring so many foreign workers into this country. Plus for those of us who do not have drivers and have to rely on our husbands, it is terribly inconvenient, especially for western women who have been driving since they were 16! Is there any other country in the whole world that doesn’t allow women to drive? This limitation on women is such a control issue with men. My husband tells me it is to keep the women here safe, and in the same breath can tell me that women are never supposed to be in the company of a man other than her husband. Don’t all these drivers and taxi drivers count? Women here should be allowed to drive if they want to. Those who prefer not to can keep their drivers.

  2. Something I have always found interesting is that Saudi society is very strict about Male-Female intereaction and segregation, why is there an exception with respect to drivers. Isn’t this relationship an oppurtunity for interactions that would normally be considered inappropriate? What about women that are really shy about men, why are they comfortable to be in a car alone with a man?

    Please do not be offended by my questions, just asking.

  3. saudiwoman

    Celeritas
    There is nothing offensive about your question and your answer is as good as mine.

  4. Reema

    I know many women in Saudi who feel ‘safer’ because they don’t drive. I think it’s wrong to not feel safe in your own country. The women fear many things, sadly they have a right to.
    Many of the men in Saudi have never had contact, either physical or emotional, with females until they get married. I think that the fault here is with the upbringing, the extreme segregation, the many social rules and the frequent use of the word e’eb (shameful). Until the mentality changes, it’s going to be very hard to make any imrovments in the country.
    I think the job lies with this generation of mothers.

    • lucky

      Hi Reema hru.I need a job home driver.
      I want a gud woman job nd gud sallary.
      Im good drive.my experince 15YEARS.NOW JOB IN RIYAD company 6yr. Bt now i dont like transporation jobs.my Agriment is 6month baki.bad in i want car drive job gud sallary.plz cont me…..THANKS

  5. Not to downplay the importance of the questions you raised, but I think the fact that many Saudi women treat their drivers like trash is an issue that deserves greater importance, especially since racism and discrimination based on economic status are among the major issues that face contemporary Saudi society.

  6. Jill

    Reading this from Amsterdam, got interested in the country and culture by accidentally read a few books.
    This is really one of the biggest myth that i don’t understand, if woman can’t get on street to even walk on their own, and always under male custodian, but not with strange-males that is. i also heard that woman can’t be driving with strange driver’s either, has to be their own family driver, this nearly means that the driver is a family member or a servant, maybe that’s why there is never stories between the woman and their intimate drivers??? i mean, if the Mutawwa wants to blame male-female intersection, why were they not making an issue of this?
    thanks for your blogs and it is really interesting to read.

  7. Someone should nickname you “Mr. Epic”

  8. M. Abdulrahman

    How does that work? Isn’t that a Khulwa? Can anyone answer Celeritas’ question? What did the people who decide that you can not sit in the University with women say about this? what is their rationale? If I’m correct Hai’a arrested a Saudi women sitting in a cafe’ with her (Syrian I think) co-worker in the middle of the mall both working on company stuff. There were thousands of people around them. Why the exception for the MAID and the DRIVER? please help!

  9. mica

    it’s all about double standards and control. That’s why nobody can give a logical answer, because there is no logic to something that is so absurd.
    And let’s face it, men freak out with woman power. So this is a nice way to control them. There are so many men in the Gulf that should not drive at all, because they don’t respect traffic rules……should they be left at home and move with a bus???

  10. Lucy

    Finally someone who recognizes the relationship is imposed and uncomfortably close. As an American in the Kingdom, I have avoided it. By now my husband has a driver due to his diplomatic job and he is in our driver’s room. I don’t really like that but he will live life and I will live mine. He knows I mostly go places with my husband and that I don’t want that kind of relationship. Don’t call Madam, she’ll call you, and probably not often. I couldn’t stand any closer of a relationship. I don’t feel like I am being helped I just feel dependent and like my personal life and privacy is infringed on and invaded. But – I have managed to keep it in its place and limit it to a level of comfort. Thanks for being so real and truthful about this issue. I can’t stand these articles touting Saudi women as privileged and rich because they are forced to have to share their time with servants ministering to them. We are modern women in KSA, Saudis or Americans, etc. – in contemporary times we don’t need maidens tending to our gowns and brushing our hair 100 times. We want private time to live our private lives and have our independence.

  11. syed yousuf ali

    I m heavy duty driver I m working Jeddah 19years.but now want come Saudi light driver job.

    • Lucy

      Mr. Abdulrahman, what is a “Khulwa”? I keep hearing more and more of these Islamic terms to excuse and “justify” these outrageous behaviors and customs. Let me tell you exactly why it is allowed for a maid and driver to sit with a woman while everyone else gets arrested. Because their true function is to baby-sit and police the woman and infringe on her privacy. And in the meantime men can patronize them by saying, “aren’t you so fortunate that you have a maid and driver? So much better off than poor free western who have to drive and clean themselves”. But don’t think they really believe that. They will just tell that to others to make themselves feel better. They know that the maids and drivers aren’t “helping” them at all but keeping them from the last shred of freedom they could have. And the maids and drivers are treated deplorably like slaves. I don’t know what in heaven’s name could possibly be considered a justification for this – if it’s called “Khulwa” – whatever that means.

  12. fahad.v.k

    i am fahad from india. now i am in riyadh i have valid indian driving license. and 3 year experience. i have valiq iqama (transferrable) i like work as a house driver. pls contact me. +966 0540495871

  13. Umm Ibrahim

    Hi, Lucy.

    Khalwa means a man and a woman being alone in isolation. This is prohibited in Islam. So, basically, the driver situation is Unislamic.

    • Lucy

      That makes sense, Umm Ibrahim, thanks.
      It seems to me on a practical level that the drivers actually serve more in the capacity of Islamic enforcement. They restrict the woman’s movement and prevent her from seeing a man. And the father/husband who is “in charge” of her whereabouts, from whom she must receive permission to travel (in Islam it is called a mahram I believe) can also track her every move. I had a driver in Saudi, who told me that he refused to drive certain Saudi women, who wanted to use his services for “illicit” (Islamically) meetings. He was right to refuse. He would probably have taken the blame.

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