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:
- Reuters: Saudi women given right to vote
- The Guardian: Saudi Arabia gives women right to vote
- BBC: Women in Saudi Arabia to vote and run in elections
- AP (via LA Times): Saudi king says women will gain the right to vote
- CNN: Saudi king: Women will be allowed to vote and run for office
Washington Post blog: Saudi women given right to vote, run as candidates for first time (photos, video) (includes Twitter comments and video of speech)
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.