Women in Saudi Arabia to vote and run in elections

Saudi seamstresses in a factory in Jeddah (file picture) Saudi women face severe restrictions in their working and personal lives

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Women in Saudi Arabia are to be given the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, King Abdullah has announced.

He said they would also have the right to be appointed to the consultative Shura Council.

The move was welcomed by activists who have called for greater rights for women in the kingdom, which enforces a strict version of Sunni Islamic law.

The changes will occur after municipal polls on Thursday, the king said.

King Abdullah announced the move in a speech at the opening of the new term of the Shura Council - the formal body advising the king, whose members are all appointed.

"Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior clerics and others... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from next term," he said.

"Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote."

Cautious reformer


Saudi Arabia is a conservative society which has been inching towards reform under the leadership of King Abdullah, himself a reformist.

About 10 years ago the king said women should be central to the Saudi economy. Since then, change has been gradual for fear of a religious backlash.

Steps have been taken to reduce segregation and give more respect to women. Now, allowing women to stand and vote in municipal elections is a big step towards political reform, even though the municipal councils have very little power.

The right for women to join the all- male Shura Council could turn out to be even more significant as it is the most influential political body in the country.

The BBC's world affairs correspondent Emily Buchanan says it is an extraordinary development for women in Saudi Arabia, who are not allowed to drive, or to leave the country unaccompanied.

She says there has been a big debate about the role of women in the kingdom and, although not everyone will welcome the decision, such a reform will ease some of the tension that has been growing over the issue.

Saudi writer Nimah Ismail Nawwab told the BBC: "This is something we have long waited for and long worked towards."

She said activists had been campaigning for 20 years on driving, guardianship and voting issues.

Another campaigner, Wajeha al-Huwaider, said the king's announcement was "great news".

"Now it is time to remove other barriers like not allowing women to drive cars and not being able to function, to live a normal life without male guardians," she told Reuters news agency.

Correspondents say King Abdullah has been cautiously pressing for political reforms, but in a country where conservative clerics and some members of the royal family resist change, liberalisation has been very gradual.

In May more than 60 intellectuals called for a boycott of Thursday's ballot saying "municipal councils lack the authority to effectively carry out their role".

Municipal elections are the only public polls in Saudi Arabia.

More than 5,000 men will compete in municipal elections on Thursday - the second-ever in the kingdom - to fill half the seats in local councils. The other half are appointed by the government.

The next municipal elections are due in four years' time.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    65. hizento
    However more rights for women doesnt always translate to a better more prosperous country. Britain was a major world power before women had the vote and no PC equality laws getting in the way of progress.

    Britain's decline as a world power has absolutely nothing to do with either of those things. Why must people on here blame 'PC' for absolutely everything they can't understand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Where are you, Zikilify? Women aged over 30 who were householders got the vote after the first world war in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland. However, if you're in NZ, you're right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Yeahhh but what's the catch?

    Giving women the same rights as men just sounds too good to be true in middle eastern countries, but if it is all true then this is some fantastic news and maybe the tip of the iceberg for a more equal society among the genders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    a shame this is brought about by concerns of overthrow rather than for the right moral reasons

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Further progress under the current political system is bound to be slow. There is a fear within the elite royals of upsetting the Ulema, who gain their authority from the royals themselves but also directly from the people. A royal-led cultural change is needed to further civil liberties-it is not illegal for women to drive in the kingdom, it is a social and cultural issue which needs to change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I hope one day they'll get rid of hanging and flogging too....I wonder what the many westerners who think we should have those things here think of that prospect!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    "Women in Saudi Arabia to vote and run in elections."

    What year is it again ... 2011 right?!

    Comedy, islamic style!

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Most of them will probably just vote for Islamists. A depressing fact of the Muslim world being that despite the deplorable way women are treated under Islamic theocracies many women remain some of Islamism's biggest supporters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    9 Minutes ago

    Re: Post 48 by Luther_Wesley-Baxter

    "Now I want to see Christian missionaries allowed in Saudi Arabia, and churches built."


    Why?! How about choice? Or is it the case that you'd deny complete freedom?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Saudi Arabia steps boldly forward into the 1920s

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    too little too late. by now Saudi women should have been flying fighter jets and researching in space alongwith other scientists of the world.
    they are capable of doing any thing done by other women arround the globe. I am sure the will make difference in this election and hope they get permission to driving cars soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    While I agree both with those who welcome this step, and those who are inclined to wait and see what else happens, it should perhaps be remembered that 'the civilized world' indubitably has its own flaws, which the people of Saudi Arabia can see very well. It's not irrational to be cautious about what unexpected consequences reforms may have, and to move slowly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    This may be a small step, but before the rejoicing gets too jubilant, one needs to try to determine whether it will be the *only* small step for a considerable number of years, or whether any other imminent small steps will be, in effect, small unimportant concessions aimed at shutting criticism up about the larger issues that need addressing in that country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Got nothing to do with the Arab Spring because the people behind that are pro Islamist in favour of more stricter islamic law and the countres affected were previously secular. However more rights for women doesnt always translate to a better more prosperous country. Britain was a major world power before women had the vote and no PC equality laws getting in the way of progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Still a country with poor human rights. A long way to go before it is civilised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The whole population is disenfranchised from the the ruling autocratic regime. This new assembly will have no teeth and a few token women elected will change nothing. I wonder how the women will conduct their campaigns. Will they still be barred from driving and have to be chaperoned by a male member of their family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Hmmmmm!! I wonder whom they want to please by such announcement, and what hidden political agendas hehind it!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    "...the kingdom, which enforces a strict version of Sunni Islamic law."

    It is no where near a 'strict' sunni law because stric sunni Islam gave women the right to vote, trade and equal legal status 1400 years ago. It would be far more correct to say Saudi implements SOME Islamic law - and that would be more closer to the reality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    you forget they still have oil and thats why we will invade them and the BBC will twist the news to make it seam like NATo arnt commiting acts of attrocity and make sure they stop mentioning NATO and never show their murderous raids because people realised its an international crime so the BBC just ignore it

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I would love to take this move at face value, it doesnt affect me, I dont live there, but one does wonder, whats in it for the government? Ah I know *loyal voters* after all we gave women the vote, we expect you to use it wisely and vote for us, of course! A case of you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. If this move is really about freedom great, but there are a lot more important ones first.


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