September 26th, 2011
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Saudi women get right to vote

Saudi King AbdullahRiyad: In an attempt to increase women involvement in the public sphere and in the local council elections, Saudi King Abdullah announce that the nation would give the women the right to vote and to run as candidates in local elections to be held in 2015. This is a major advancement for the rights of women in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

“We refuse to marginalise the role of women in Saudi society and in every aspect within the rules of Sharia, King Abdulla said. This declaration was made at an annual speech before his advisory assembly, or Shura Council. He said the step was taken after consulting the nations top religious clerics.

“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote,” he added. “This is great news,” said Wajeha al-Huwaider, a Saudi writer and women’s rights activist. “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,” she added.

The right to vote is the biggest change introduced by King Abdullah. He is considered as a reformer by many. He became the de facto ruler in 1995 and formally ascended to the throne upon Fahd’s death in August 2005. The King has taken several precautionary measures to keep the Arab uprising that is close to his door step away his country. He pledged roughly 93 billion in financial support to boost jobs and services.

The current changes would allow women to be appointed to the Shura council, the advisory body selected by the King that is currently all male.The Shura council, which vets legislation but cannot veto it or enforce changes, is fully appointed by the king.

In Saudi there is a huge difference between men and women rights. Although there is no written law against women driving, they are not issued licences, effectively banning the practice. A campaign this summer by women who broke Saudi law by driving on the kingdom’s city streets prompted some arrests. Women in Saudi Arabia must have written approval from a male guardian – a father, husband, brother or son – to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations.

Ruled by an absolute monarchy supported by conservative Wahhabi clerics, Saudi Arabia is a conservative country where religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women. King Abdullah has long been pushing cautious political reforms, but in a country where conservative clerics and senior members of the ruling family oppose even minor changes, liberalisation has been very gradual.






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