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

Analysis

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
    0

    Comment number 358.

    346. ursula brown
    My sentiments exactly. Out of the frying pan and into the fire is never a good idea.
    Good luck to all nations, hoping that more freedom is the future norm. Religious fundamentalism is very damaging to the psyche, and the chance, or rather choice, to be an atheist or agnostic is a very healthy one indeed.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 357.

    @354 Tifffany

    Please refer to @287

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 356.

    Highest intellectual level??!! And Tiffany comes out with comment 354. Shot yourself in the foot their love ;)

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 355.

    @350 and how old was Aisha when he married her?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 354.

    345. krokodil
    " We have enemies within."
    ///////
    Yes, the multiple voices in your paranoid head. Seriously, every single topic on HYS is hi-jacked by herds of right-whingers with nothing better to do, and HYS as a smart forum where people exchanged informed opinions at the highest intellectual level, is no more. It's all become rather vulgar, irrelevant and so, so, so predictable.

  • Comment number 353.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 352.

    Revolution is exciting, but western political history shows that slow change is far more impactful. Even dramatic things such as the abolition of slavery in the UK or America had over a generation of groundwork and small breakthroughs before it was finally done away with.

    I am very impressed with King Abdullah and I applaud this step in women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 351.

    I wonder whether the Saudis took any interest in the AV referendum? I somehow doubt it. (Although it still makes me chuckle how the YES campaign got such a thrashing!) My point is! does the BBC really believe this is the most important story for Britain? I doubt 90% of the population care less!!

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 350.

    The Prophet, peace be upon him, married a woman who ran her own business. To use a cultural choice and give it the force of religion is as daft as christians using single texts in their holy books to justify similar actions.
    Islam was not and is not a religion of the past. It's only seen as such because of the cultural mores in certain countries

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 349.

    It is a very small step down the path towards democracy, even in Britain we still suffer from having an illusion of being in a democracy.

    It has long been a maxim in British politics that it has largely been the female vote that has returned conservative governments so frequently, so it looks like hard luck to any really progressively minded people in Saudi Arabia.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 348.

    About time this insane country was taken to task by the west. For too long we've kissed their behinds to get their money and oil. Forget libya let's drive these despots from power.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 347.

    Dear BBC:
    Would it be possible to ask for our comment on an issue taking place where we live? Most topics are not our concern - why is that?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 346.

    I have noticed a few comments suggesting that now the people of saudi should be able to choose to be a christian. How about simply the choice not to be a muslim.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 345.

    Why is this the headline story? Its sort of boring constitutional Saudi business when you think about it. Surely the terror arrests are much more relevant to the uk???? Never should our guard drop. We have enemies within.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 344.

    I am always keen to learn of the cultures - and the cultural changes - that occur in countries other than the U.K., where I live. But, on account of that last fact, my opinion of this issue is not in the least bit relevant - for the very reason that I don't live there and this change will not affect me in any way; it's none of my business.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 343.

    Will they receive veiled threats if they don't vote for the right party ?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 342.

    The headline should have been "Women banned from taking part in elections" as this is exactly what happened despite a 10 year promise. However the BBC chooses to put a gloss on this by quoting a promise for the future, which judging by previous promises is just another lie.

    The election is taking place next week and women are not allowed to vote or be candidates.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 341.

    Why are the rights on Non-Muslims always downplayed in the Middle East. What about allowing at least one church in Saudi-Arabia so that the 3 million Catholic Philipinos that work there have somewhere to worship. Now, wouldn't that be a reform!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 340.

    It is quite refreshing to hear that, in what is essentially a feudal culture driven by a misogynist religion, women are to be treated like human beings instead of chattels. This is one step in the right direction, but there are still many steps.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 339.

    For the strict patriarchal Saudi society, this is revolutionary; the rest of the world will say, "what kept you?" Let me congratulate the Saudis' on taking this action. In particular, I congratulate King Abdullah for leading the way. Let us hope that further reforms will follow.

 

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