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 378.

    The real reason Saudi Arabia did not allow women to vote is because they are a physical part of man, therefore already voting in one body. Women alone are considered vulnerable to ideological manipulations, needing man to guide and protect them from evil within and about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    52 killerdalek. I suggest you concentrate more on why the US is going to veto the application for the Palestinians to have their own country, than making snide remarks about another country. Has it ever crossed your mind that perhaps the Saudis don't want troblemakers and rabblerousers arriving in their country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    179. theilliberal
    25TH SEPTEMBER 2011 - 17:05

    Realise- Islam gave women rights, inlcuding voting and property over a thousand years ago (way before the west) The issue is the saudi kings and other rulers in the muslim world, who have ruled and used religion to serve thier own ends.


    Good spelling, you seem educated.


    I suspect that his English is rather better than your Arabic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    If a man can produce babies (offspring and heirs) on his own Amen.

    If he can not then he should give women EQUALITY!

    One without the other dooms humanity to failure, but together with gods will, they could the populate universe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    Re Post 48 by Luther. The last thing that any country wants are Christian Missionaries, have you completely lost your marbles. Christianity has been nresponsible for the most bloody wars throughout the world. most of the distrust in the Middle East goes back to the crusades. Right wing neocon christian countries have managed to competely misinform and brainwash millions, its all about the money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    A token concession to Western power interests, undeniably...

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    Emancipation of Saudi women will take time as the society develops its own pace of change. Provided they do not follow in the steps of the French fundementalists and seculirists they will retain their distinct Muslim identity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    @363 Tiffany

    My point - you are taking this way too seriously which is leading you to criticize others opinions on HYS and become somewhat upset....although articulately :)

    I don't care about the ratings myself - they go up and down like Wall Street. So your -26 could go higher but then again lower. Not important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    When RSA practiced Apartheid the media was all for boycotts of SA goods.

    Guess the media all need petrol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    It will, of course, only be individuals from incredibly rich and powerful families (who have vested interests in feathering their own nests) who will stand and be elected.

    Oh, wait...just a minute...

    Sorry, I'm confusing it with the USA...

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    Hands up all Saudis in favour of more liberal reforms. That's odd - I can't see any.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    Is this April fools day or something. Saudi Arabia does not have democracy so what is the use of voting rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    360. aphoristic
    I have been in cars driven by women... I consider their present policy on the matter fair and unbiased... my teeth marks are still on the dash board from the last time !
    So you're a scaredy cat - what does that have to do with anything?

  • Comment number 365.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Please remind me, someone: who said "If voting achieved anything they wouldn't let you do it"? In the UK, all you can change by voting is the identity of the bunch of suits who are lying to you. Why should it be any different in Saudi Arabia? Kidding people that by giving them a vote you give them some kind of power is an old, old con trick. It's amazing that people still fall for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    357. beammeup @354 Tifffany:
    Please refer to @287
    What's your point? If you can't express yourself with words, just vote up and down. Although bear in mind that being voted down (a proud -26 at some point!) is almost a badge of honour these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    These societies set women back hundreds of years. All the hard work and struggles for equality for women go right out the window. What a complete joke. They are so so so lucky they have oil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Women in the USA did not get to vote until 1929 ! It took the USA 153 years to recognize women as people so just stop complaining and see the progress ! Baby steps ! Remember ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    I have been in cars driven by women... I consider their present policy on the matter fair and unbiased... my teeth marks are still on the dash board from the last time !

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    whodi dowhatsitcalled done what when and why to whom?

    Is this relevant to my interests?




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