It all started when Saudi-based journalist Ahmed Omransuggested on Twitter that new-generation car booking services Uber and Careem offer free rides for women wishing to vote in the kingdom’s upcoming municipal elections.
The elections, which will be held in December, are the first allowing Saudi women to both run as candidates and vote.
Careem, which operates in 18 cities in the Middle East,including Saudi, decided it would take up Omran’s idea.
“The idea to tweet about this came after a female friend of mine complained that she can’t register to vote because she doesn’t have a driver, and she wondered if the government would reimburse her if she used one of these apps,” said Omran, who works as the U.S. paper Wall Street Journal’s Saudi correspondent.
“I posted the tweet, and both Uber and Careem quickly responded with positive replies,” he added.
According to Abdulla Elyas, one of Careem’s founders, the firm had already been mulling the idea.
“We were actually thinking of launching this campaign before Ahmed’s tweet came in,” said Elyas. “There is a need for females to get easy travel access when they go to vote.”
In Saudi Arabia, no legal code explicitly bans women from driving. However, authorities do not issue any licenses to women, who mostly rely on personal male drivers or relatives to get around.
“We want to be a part of the progressiveness surrounding Saudi women and the new developments that are helping them. So we’re telling them that we will take care of their rides if they take care of their rights,” said Elyas.
While women’s rights groups and initiatives have tried for years to convince authorities to lift the ban, Careem does not claim to be endorsing an activist stance. Instead, the booking service is merely “trying to do their best” for their female customers.
“The debate on women drivers has been a critically discussed topic for many years now and I don’t think our opinion will change or count as much. But what we can is act in a constructive manner and believe that women voting and getting elected is a first step,” Elyas said.
“And what we can help in order for that to happen is offering the free rides to ensure Saudi women get to the polls on Election Day.