A cautious reform allowing women the right to vote and stand for local elections will be coming up in Saudi Arabia. However, women are still deprived of other important rights.
“Because we refuse to marginalize 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,” King Abdullah said.
The reform, however, does not intent to remove other important barriers that hinder women to participate in public life. Liberal activists in the country have long called for greater rights for women, who are barred from travelling, working or having medical operations without the permission of a male relative. Women in Saudi Arabia still need to have written approvals from a male guardian – a father, husband, brother or son – to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations. Women are also not allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia. Although there is no written law against women driving, they are not issued licenses
Hence, despite the new reform it is foreseeable that Saudi Arabia will stay a conservative country where religious police continues to patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.
Nevertheless, women’s right to vote and to stand for election in Saudi Arabia is an important step to involve women in the public sphere. Given the existing restrictions for women, the reform is an extraordinary development for women in Saudi Arabia. The reform gives hope that time will bring more gender equality to Saudi Arabia. This process will surely be tough as there are still many barriers which reduce women’s decision-making power and hinder them to live a normal life without male guardians.
Related article on this blog: The Arab Spring: a Booster for Women’s Emancipation!?