Uber moves to protect female drivers.. but only in Saudi Arabia

Here’s an idea that might catch on during the Me Too era. What if your ride-sharing app included a feature where female drivers could choose to only accept ride requests from women? Perhaps even more to the point, what if female riders could request only female drivers? After some recent reports of sexual assaults involving drivers (or a murder by a person a woman mistakenly thought was a driver) it might make some women more comfortable to go to a same-gender riding program. Well, the second portion isn’t an option yet, but Uber is offering the choice to female drivers. The catch is, it’s only available in Saudi Arabia. (CNN)

Uber now lets women drivers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia opt to pick up women passengers.

The company announced the new feature, called Women Preferred View, this week after months of local research into the preferences and concerns of women drivers in the region, according to the company. The effort is part of a broader push by Uber to cater to women drivers in the region. Saudi Arabia ended its ban on all women driving in the region last June.

Saudi Arabia places many restrictions on women and bans the mixing of sexes at public events, but some of its constraints have been eased in recent years. In June, Uber rolled out a registration portal for Saudi women to learn more about its initiatives for women in the country.

I’ll grant you that Saudi Arabia is a special case and probably worthy of some exceptions. Women were only recently allowed to start driving in that country and there’s been some backlash to the effort at modernization. If female drivers are being harassed by men who don’t think they should be behind the wheel, allowing them to pick up only women might be a better model. (And there are still families who don’t want their female relatives riding in a car with a strange man anyway.)

But why should it be restricted to Saudi Arabia? Would it really be so terrible here in America to allow both female drivers and customers the option of only engaging with people of their own gender? We’re constantly hearing about the unease many women (particularly survivors of sexual assault) feel when getting into a closed space with a man they don’t know. This could, in at least some small way, alleviate that distress.

Yes, we could engage in all sorts of whataboutism on this and say that it’s unfair or ask why men can’t have the same option. But let’s try living in the real world for a moment. Instances where men have been assaulted by women and subsequently become afraid of them, while possible I’m sure, have to be as rare as hen’s teeth compared to the opposite gender situations. It’s not a pervasive problem that the market needs to cope with. You could raise a similar argument about why the riders and drivers might then be able to screen by race, but that’s just pointless because it would never stand up in court anyway.

So perhaps it’s a double standard. But so what? We have plenty of double standards as it is. You might as well try to make some use of one of them. I’m sure somebody would immediately try to bring a lawsuit, but this is an idea Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies might want to consider.