28 July 2017

Crook Fellow Ghida Ismail is spending her summer at the Harvard Kennedy School in the Evidence for Policy Design (EPOD) program in Boston, assisting the research project “Expanding Female Access to the Job Market through Affordable Commute.” She goes into detail on her work and experiences for us here:

The World Economic Forum's 2016 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 141 out of 144 countries for gender parity; as a matter of fact, women are barred from driving in Saudi Arabia. Considering that public transport is non-existent in Saudi, this bar on driving hinders the access of women to employment and their participation in the labor market.

Thus, the project I am working on with Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at the Harvard Kennedy School aims to inform policy by examining the relationship between mobility and female labor force participation through the design and testing of a transportation service that can improve women's access to the labor market in the city of Riyadh.

Currently the project is still at the design phase, wherein we’re working on defining demand, measuring costs, and understanding female employment trends in relation to commute. What I found most interesting in this phase is that the design is not taking place in a top-down manner, in which experts and professors impose a transportation design based on previous or peer research, but rather the women in Riyadh are engaged in the design by being asked to fill in a survey to assess their demands and needs.

Furthermore, another interesting aspect of the work is that it is not purely theoretical, but involves implementation on the ground. In fact, Careem (a ride-sharing company, similar to Uber, which functions in the Middle East) plays a role in the research, as they will have to eventually implement the designed transport mode. I believe that it is crucial for researchers and academics to work closely with the communities and the organizations on the floor to maximize the impact, effectiveness and efficiency of their projects.

In collaboration with Careem, and based on a thorough analysis of the survey administered to the women, we want to test the elasticity of women’s participation in the job market by altering cost variables, such as taxi fare, duration of travel, and the guarantee of ride-sharing with other female passengers. The results will help determine whether cheaper, shorter and culturally acceptable transport options will encourage women to accept a wider range of job offers, and achieve greater stability and/or match quality in their employment.

This summer my work centered on analyzing the survey results. The most exciting part was the freedom I had in exploring varied aspects and dimensions of the survey; any hypothesis I had about women's behavior in regards to commute, I could test it using the data gathered from the survey. I primarily focused on how the cultural and socio-economic background of women impacts their commute needs and demands, as well as their willingness to rideshare.

I am very thrilled to be working on this project, as it will hopefully advance women’s economic and social role in Saudi as well as lead to their empowerment. On a final note, I believe that both gender parity and proper transportation are essential components for the socio-economic growth and development of a country and should thus be actively worked on.

 

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