A few days before municipal elections in Saudi Arabia from which women will be excluded, King Abdullah (photo, from lexpress.fr) has said that in the future “women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote.”
“Because we refuse to marginalise 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 on Sunday in a speech delivered at the opening of the new term of the Shura Council, which is the formal body advising the king.
He also said that women would have the right to be appointed to the consultative Shura Council.
The king added that the changes will take place after municipal polls on Thursday. That day will mark the second-ever municipal elections in the kingdom and more than 5,000 men will compete in order to fill half the seats in local councils. The members composing the other half are appointed by the government.
Women will have to wait four years before taking part in the only public polls in Saudi Arabia.
Activists welcomed the announcement in a country that enforces a strict version of Sunni Islamic law. In Saudi Arabia women face severe restrictions both in their working and personal lives. They have to seek permission from male relatives in order to work, travel, study, marry and even receive health care and they are not allowed to drive.
Saudi writer Nimah Ismail Nawwab told the BBC that activists had been campaigning on driving, guardianship and voting issues for the past 20 years.
The king’s announcement was described as “great news” by campaigner Wajeha al-Huwaider.
“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 told Reuters news agency.