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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  • Comment number 418.

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

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 417.

    The amount of patronising and sexist posts here from males is sad, if not surprising.

  • Comment number 416.

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

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 415.

    About time, Saudi Arabia - many congratulations to Saudi women. Now, UK ladies - let's strive for equality here, by demanding the government ends pay disparity; workplace discrimination and sexism; glass ceilings in employment and sports; and the seemingly never-ending parade of sexist, demeaning adverrtisements we are subjected to.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 414.

    A step in the right direction.... but they have a long way to go yet to come out of the middle ages. Good luck to them in that.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 413.

    Instinctively, i am surprised and happy.
    Then i think about it. In a society where women cannot live independently of men, what possible significance can the right to vote have?Vote for whom? The candidate who won't let them drive or his opponent, the one who who won't let them leave the country alone? They are the same. This right to "choose" is meaningless in such a brazenly patriarchal society.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 412.

    Sum1
    It is an internal issue and Saudi people decide what they want.
    So, just mind your own business!

    -------------------------------------------------------------

    The treatment of all human being IS everyone's issue...please take moment to grow up!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 411.

    We have the right to vote and run in an electon.
    We know how useful that is.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 410.

    @405.Sum1

    "It is an internal issue and Saudi people decide what they want.
    So, just mind your own business!"

    In like manner, do the Saudis have any plans to stop funding mosques and terrorism world-wide and thus stop "interfering in other people's business"?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 409.

    I hope the first thing they do is vote themselves the right to wear less restrictive clothing.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 408.

    This is good news in a culture where men are so terrified of women they have to treat them lie slaves. The next step is to allow women to drive cars and let them enjoy sunshine and fresh air and not be enclosed in the burkah.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 407.

    Poster 391.
    Exactly. No matter how financially well off a country is, its progress out of barbarism to some level of civilisation can be measured by whether it treats its people as human beings and not as members of some underclass identified by gender, religion or ethnicity.On that level, allowing token voting is irrelevant, particularly as it is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the West too.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 406.

    I am curious about how anyone will know who is behind the veil during an election? Unless I am mistaken no woman is allowed to show her face. So how exactly will "campaigns" take place?Also male guardians can decide not to accompany a woman to any public gathering. With both of these restrictions in place you will need to be one determined dame to achieve anything under this new symbolic freedom.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 405.

    It is an internal issue and Saudi people decide what they want.
    So, just mind your own business!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 404.

    Wow Saudi's accepting women can vote - now the nation is leaning towards the western ideology - like the the many rich Arabs who already enjoy their Wine Women and Gucci. Bikinis Next. Conversion has begun. This Western Influence (not religion) needs no missionaries to convert you. It merely assists in self infliction if you are willing and in my opinion it has succeeded and consumed cultures.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 403.

    I think considering the deep-rooted patriarchal tendencies perpetuated by among many issues strong religious beliefs in this society, this is something to applaud. The right to vote has been a long time in coming. Slowly by slowly, women will enjoy more rights and freedom. More Saudi women are getting educated and this is instrumental in the way they choose to see their society and the world.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 402.

    A step in the right direction! The first of many to come...
    Women in America are still paid less than men 90 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment! Thanks Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton!
    Saudi women have accomplished a significant movement through your bravery and determination! Congratulations!!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 401.

    I think in Saudi's case, no havoc is clearly the best option...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 400.

    Isn't that long overdue? Well, better late than never, a commendable start.

    Just don't let the clergy assume too much power or influence, and ensure that all elections will be genuine and fair. (btt1943)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 399.

    To admit to the fact,this is an unprecedented step for Saudis.Saudi has all the aspects of life that could easily makes it as one of the developed countries,but it's crucial to attribute this retardation to the conservative customs and traditions that have inherited since 1895 until our recent time. it's worth mentioning ,these customs are not related to the Islamic instructions.thumb up to KSA

 

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