Saudi women given right to vote, run in future elections

News organizations and social networks were buzzing Sunday morning after Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud announced that women would be given the right to vote and to run in future local elections as well as join the advisory Shura council as full members.

This marks a significant shift for the conservative Muslim country where activists have been calling for further rights for women.

“Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics] and others … to involve women in the Shura council as members, starting from the next term” (King Abdullah said in his speech, according to The Guardian)

Saudi writer Nimah Ismail Nawwab, in talking to the BBC, said activists have been campaigning on this issue and others related to women’s rights in the country for 20 years. In this report by Al Jazeera, Hatoon Al Fassi, a professor of women’s history at Saud University, comments on the decision and the long-term efforts for further women’s rights in the country:

Women in Saudi Arabia currently must have written approval from a male to work, leave the country or for certain medial procedures, and public segregation of the sexes is the norm. Women are also still not allowed to drive, though there is no specific law against it. This became the most recent hot-button issue as over the summer women protested by defying the ban and driving. Some women were arrested as a result. This issue was not addressed in the announcement.

The White House offered praise of the decision Sunday morning, with National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor saying the move recognizes the “significant contributions” that women make in Saudi Arabia, according to the AP.

Some commentators have suggested that the elections are meaningless and these elected positions don’t hold real power, as noted in this Christian Science Monitor story. But many are still acknowledging the symbolic importance of involving women.

This changes will go into effect after Thursday’s election. The next municipal elections will be in 2015.

Here’s a roundup of some of the initial coverage:

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

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Gender check: 8/11/11 – Midwest

*Gender Checks are quick examinations of gender representation in individual news articles for the purpose of discovering trends over time. Click here to read more.

Website: St. Louis Post-Dispatch(stltoday.com)

"Congressional pages from St. Louis area lament passing of the program" - Stltoday.com, 8/11/2011

On Stltoday.com, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 10:15 a.m. (PDT) Thursday, Aug. 11, was titled “Congressional pages from St. Louis area lament passing of the program.” Its subject was the end of the U.S. House of Representatives’ page program.

Here is its gender breakdown:

Author: Male

Human sources (listed in order mentioned):

  1. Male, house page
  2. Female, widow of former U.S. representative (later noted then she succeeded him)
  3. Male, U.S. representative
  4. Male, first appointed African-American page
  5. Female, former page (college junior)
  6. Female, page (high school junior)
  7. Male, page (high school senior)


Website: St. Louis Beacon

On the St. Louis Beacon, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 10:15 a.m. (PDT) Thursday, Aug. 11, was titled “A year out, political attacks focus on image — not issues.” Its subject was election campaigns and attacks on the images of candidate and incumbents.

Here is its gender breakdown:

Author: Female

Human sources  (listed in order mentioned):

  1. Unknown, top local party official
  2. Male, political science professor
  3. Female, U.S. senator
  4. Male, U.S. representative
  5. Male, unnamed spokesman for lieutenant governor
  6. Male, unnamed spokesman for St. Louis business man (potential candidate)

Notes/analysis: The story also included quotes from releases from political groups.

Gender Check: 2/18/11 South

*Gender Checks are quick examinations of gender representation in individual news articles for the purpose of discovering trends over time. Click here to read more.

Website: The Miami Herald

On the Miami Herald, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 3 p.m. (EST) on Friday, Feb. 18 was titled “Accused Child Abusers’ Granddaughter Also A Victim.” Its subject was the developing legal case involving alleged abuse of a grandparents’ adopted children as well as their biological granddaughter.

Here is its gender breakdown:

Author: Female

Human sources  (listed in order mentioned):

1. Female – mother of the victim

2. Female – judge

3. Female – child welfare lawyer (as quoted from court documents)

4. unknown- group of unidentified prosecutors

Notes/analysis: No male sources were directly quoted in the article. Both the male and female grandparents are being charged with attempted murder. Both male and female victims were targeted.


Website: Patch (Seminole Heights)

On Patch of Seminole Heights, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 3:30 p.m. (EST) on Friday, Feb. 18 was titled “Early Voting for Tampa Election Begins Saturday.” Its subject was a basic summary of information for voters in the upcoming municipal election.

Here is its gender breakdown:

Author: Male

Human sources  (listed in order mentioned):

1. Male – county supervisor of elections

Notes/analysis: For this election in Tampa, 1 of the 5 mayoral candidates is female, and 8 of the 28 city council candidates are female. Tampa currently has a female mayor and 3 of 7 city council members are female.