allowed to drive, Saudi women repair cars

In a garage in Jeddah, Saudi women with dirty hands repair cars that they were not allowed to drive four years ago.

If the government says it encourages women’s work in the very conservative Muslim kingdom, their wanderings in a field that has long been reserved for men will not always be understood.

Ghada Ahmad, a worker in the garage where five women are currently working with men, remembers a customer, an ‘old man’, who recently ordered all female mechanics to get out and stay away from his car.

“In the beginning, it’s normal for him not to trust us because I’m a woman,” tempered this mechanic in his thirties, dressed in a blue uniform and white oil-stained gloves. “It’s something new for them. After years of only seeing men, they see a woman coming.”

As she was still learning the basics of checking oil and changing tires, she was also plagued by doubts. “I came home with raised hands and I cried and said to myself: + this job is not for me, they are right +”, she says.

But the learned skills and more encouraging comments from other clients have boosted her confidence. “A man said to me: + I’m very proud of you. You honor us +”, remembers the young woman, who says she especially likes the interaction with the customers in this job.

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 participate in the automotive industry at all levels”.

– The man’s green light –

The integration of women into the public sphere is part of “Vision 2030”, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s strategy to restore the image of his country, which is perceived as tight, and to diversify an economy that is extremely dependent on oil.

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

The country has also relaxed the so-called “guardian” rules, which regulate the authority men exercise over the women in their family. But Jeddah mechanics claim they would never have worked without their husbands’ consent.

Before she applied for the job offer on Snapchat, Ola Flimban, who was a housewife at the time, said she asked her husband, Rafat, for an opinion, which helped her prepare for the interview by getting her to repeat the name of the spare parts.

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

In the garage, Ola Flimban, 44, has also learned to respond to the most skeptical customers.

“They are surprised that girls work in this field, and ask us how we fell in love with it. That is the most common question,” she says, explaining that she would like to learn more about cars, before she even drove.

– “Relaxed customers” –

When he arrived in his Nissan Altima, Mechaal, 20, admits to being “shocked” that the emptying of his car was entrusted to a woman before he changed his mind. “If they are there, it must mean they are formed,” he said. “And maybe they understand my car better than I do.”

The feminization of the garage is, in any case, the happiness of the drivers, more “relaxed” in contact with the mechanics, estimates Angham Jeddaoui, 30, employed for six months.

“Some girls feel shy when dealing with men. They do not know how to talk to them about what will be done with their car. With us, they are welcome to chat,” she notes.

For Angham Jeddaoui, this work is the culmination of a project she thought was impossible. “My dream was to get into the automotive field, but for a Saudi woman it was not available. So when the opportunity arose, I applied immediately.”

This first experience encouraged her to drive on the road herself and prepare to pass her driving license. And “if I run into a problem in the middle of the road, I now know how to react”.

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