Saudi King Abdullah announced on Sunday he was giving women the right to vote and run in municipal elections, the only public polls in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom.There is a long way to go, but this is a very welcome step in the right direction.
He also announced that women would have the right to join the all-appointed Shura (consultative) Council, in an In a five-minute speech opening a new term of the council.
“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,” he said in a speech delivered to the advisory body.
“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote.”
Women’s rights are regarded as a litmus test for the government’s appetite for social and political reform. Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict version of Islamic law that enforces the segregation of the sexes.
“This is great news,” said Wajeha al-Huwaider, a Saudi writer and women’s rights activist, according to Reuters. “Women’s voices will finally be heard.”
“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.”
The king did not address the issue of women being allowed to drive. Although there is no written law against women driving, they are not issued licenses, effectively banning the practice.
Women in Saudi Arabia must also have written approval from a male guardian – a father, husband, brother or son – to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations.
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