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Female Drivers for Pilgrims’ Trains in Saudi Arabia for the First Time

Saudi woman, Thara’a Ali, sits in the driver’s seat inside a high-speed train that transports pilgrims to Mecca in an unfamiliar scene.

Saudi women obtained the right to drive in 2018, and until recently, Thara’a’s driving experience was limited to her family’s car in her coastal city, Jeddah.

However, last year she joined the 28,000 women who applied for 32 positions as female drivers of the Haramain Express Train, which travels the 450 km distance between Mecca and Medina at a speed of 300 km per hour.

The former English teacher was among the lucky few to be chosen after completing her maiden flight last month.

“The first day at work and entering the train and the driver’s cabin was like a dream,” she told AFP.

She continued, “When you are in the cabin, you see things moving towards you at a very high speed. I got a little worried at first, but thank God, with time and intense training, I gained confidence.”

It’s worth mentioning that the percentage of Saudi women in the labor market has more than doubled since 2016, from 17% to 37%

Also, Saudi women used to work and achieve success in limited fields, such as education and medicine.

However, the measures taken in recent years, which have somewhat reduced gender discrimination in the workplace and lessened restrictions on women’s clothing, have opened up new opportunities even in the labor market.

This includes jobs in the hotel and restaurant sector, which strengthened the “Saudization” policy that the government has been adopting for many years and has recently grown significantly.

The driver, Raneem Azouz, tells Agence France-Presse that one of the female passengers confessed to her at the end of one of the trips to the city that she did not believe that women could take on this task until she saw it with her own eyes.

Azouz added, “She told me, frankly when I saw the job advertisement, I was totally against it. I used to say that even if my daughter drove the train, I would not ride with her.” 

After arriving at her destination safely, the passenger assured Azzouz that she had proved herself and told her that she didn’t feel any difference.

Executive Vice President of the Saudi Railways Company, Rayan Al-Harbi, says that female drivers are highly qualified and have proven their worth during training.


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