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By Emma Raymond on 3.10.2023

Saudi Women Allowed to Vote

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Women in Saudi Arabia will be given the right to vote in future municipal elections, King Abdullah has announced. The news comes as a decided victory for women’s rights activists, and for the King himself, who has been cautiously pressing for political reform since he became ruler in 2005. Though there has been criticism about the length of time it has taken for this law to be passed, the change could mark the beginning of a more vigorous women’s liberation movement in Saudi.

The announcement was made at the opening of a new term for the Shura council, a formal assembly that advises the King, and came alongside the news that women will also have the rights of a full voting member on the council, as well as the right to run in municipal elections.

The King’s statement made reference to the fact that the country only opposes the marginalisation of women as far as that opposition does not conflict with Sharia Law. For this reason, Saudi Arabian women still lack many rights that would be considered fundamental in the UK. They are prohibited from driving, and from leaving the country unaccompanied. All women must also have a male guardian throughout their lives.

Although a select few Saudi women have expressed gratification at the news, a great many more are sceptical of any changes reform may bring. According to information from the Global Gender Gap Report, many women are not in favour of radical change. Their lifestyles and values do not conform to those of the West, and so their perception of their own situation is very different to that of an outsider. The royal family and many clerics are also very conservative, in accordance with Saudi’s Islamic culture.

However, there are those who will continue to struggle for greater equality, encouraged and heartened by this recent triumph. Wajeha al-Huwaider, a Saudi campaigner for women’s rights, has stated that now it is time to remove other barriers so that women can live a normal life without male guardians. Whilst women in the municipal councils would hold little power, their right to vote on the influential Shura Council could prove to be very significant in future.

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