Saudi Arabian Women Granted Voting Rights


Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud announced on Sunday that women will be given the right to vote and to run in future municipal elections. Women will also be able to join the advisory Shura Council, a formal body that advises the king and that is said to be the most influential political body in the country. Said the king in a five-minute speech:

“Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia (Islamic law), 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.”

“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote.”

The unrest that has swept the Mideast in the Arab Spring earlier this year has not led in Saudi Arabia to the wide-scale protests that occurred in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. Small protests have occurred in Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil-producing region where the majority of the population is Shiite. The Saudi government also sent its army into neighboring Bahrain to quell anti-government protests there. Aware of all this, the Saudi government pledged some $93 billion in financial support for jobs and services in March.

In addition, Saudi women’s groups have staged public protests to call for an end to the country’s ban on women driving and garnered a great deal of attention via social media; in January, female activists started a campaign on social networking websites to call for the right for women to vote and run in municipal elections.

While noting that the king’s latest decision will not be welcomed by all, activists hailed the change:

Saudi writer Nimah Ismail Nawwab told the BBC, ”This is something we have long waited for and long worked towards.”

She said activists had been campaigning for 20 years on driving, guardianship and voting issues.

Another campaigner, Wajeha al-Huwaider, said the king’s announcement was “great news”.

“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.

Elections to fill half the seats in the kingdom’s 285 municipal councils (the government fills the other half) were first held in 2005. More than 5,000 men will compete in the Thursday elections which are only the second in Saudi Arabia’s history. As women are currently excluded from the ballot, more than 60 Saudi intellectuals and activists have called for a boycott.

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict version of Sunni Islamic law. Women in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom are not allowed to drive, travel or work or undergo medical procedures without the approval of a male relative. Men and women are segregated in public and the king’s announcement did not address these broader issues. 88-year-old King Abdullah has been regarded as a “cautious reformer,” says the New York Times.  He has built a new university for students of both sexes and women have been encouraged to work, but he has so far done little to change the political system since he became Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler in 1995 when King Fahd became ill. Abdullah became king after Fahd died in 2005.

The king’s announcement was made just days before municipal elections in which women will be excluded — it will only be after four more years, in 2015, that women will be able to participate in elections.


Related Care2 Coverage

Saudi King Withdraws Ambassador From Syria

U.S. Senators Tell Saudi King to Let Women Drive

Saudi Women Take the Wheel


Photo by Emitron_68


Amy L.
Amy L.about a year ago

I had the joy of living in SA for 9 months and saw first hand the way they treat women. They do treat women horribly there as well as their immigrant slave population. The US should get out of bed with that ignorant third world POS country.

Hannah Scrivener
Hannah Scrivener3 years ago

Wait, what: women can't even DRIVE there? Excuse me?!

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Jessie, really? Did you, by any chance notice this is a very old discussion? My last comment was 6 months ago. I'd LOVE to be able to meet Jane B in person. but the internet is her chosen "forte" in which to rant and rave. Yes, this is a discussion, but sometimes when there are so opposing viewpoints and with Jane, running off the deep end with rambling tirades and emotion, they do end up as a debate. Whether one interprets it as discussion or debate is really irrelevant as long as the "competitors" or "participants" remain civil.

Jessie R.
Susan Zitzler4 years ago

To continue, she is trying to get 3 of the four children her to America they are USA citizens, the boy was born in Saudi Arabia. So life is not always about little freedoms and promises, it is about freedom in it entirety that men come to the conclusion that women "are better" than them and that is what they fear. They also think that it is a woman's fault if she is assaulted by a man, so that is why they shroud the women. You don't see, you don't want it. It really is the problem of the men since they cannot control themselves, not just the women can't control themselves. It made me sick when I went to the beach here in USA and a son and a father from Saudi Arabia descent are have a good time playing in the water and cooling off. While the wife sits shrouded on the beach under an umbrella baking in the heat. So wrong to me. How can they enjoy themselves knowing she is suffering? They don't care,

Jessie R.
Susan Zitzler4 years ago

I have a friend here in USA whose daughter married a Saudi for a supposed richer better life. She became his shrouded dog who could not leave the house, he married other women after her, had other children than just hers, beat on her, threatened her with death (government will not help a wife when she is beaten-husband's right to beat control wife). She could never leave the house for days unless a family member - male - would drive her to the store, etc. She spent her life in a rich big house, with maids and all, yet a prisoner. He beat her with her most recent pregnancy and she just about starved herself from depression. He degraded her in front of the other children she has had and called her names. She asked to visit her mother in the USA and give birth there, he let her go seeing she would leave 4 other children behind and she would return. She arrived at her mother's house like a skeleton from a concentration camp, heavy with child and hair falling out and a nervous wreck. Her mother nurtured her and she gave birth her in the USA and her child is an American citizen now. She has abandoned the thought of returning to the hell she had and hopes her "girls" will not be raised in such a cruel way and made to believe that they are "less than a boy is". That the boy she left behind will not grow up mean and cruel like his father to treat a wife in his future in such a horrible manner. She is trying at this time, 3 years now, to get custody of 3 of the children who ar

Jessie R.
Susan Zitzler4 years ago

Diane L,Jane B, Elizabeth K--- boy can I come and watch you have a cat fight----- this is a discussion--- not a debate, cool out-- we all have our opinions here-

Jessie R.
Susan Zitzler4 years ago

Yes they will drive, soon maybe vote, next hope they can "kick that habit" of being swathed in black and covering their faces,head and everything. How are they to "run" for a political position in the government when you can't even see their faces. How will they drive if they are not allowed to have their picture taken. Here in the USA they cannot drive with that shroud on, and they have to remove it to have a picture taken. No cop is going to approach a car with a shrouded person whom he cannot see who they are. So to drive here they have to be able to "see" and "be seen". One day they can put bags over the heads of the men and they can be the "dogs" in the country.

Julie V.
Julie V.4 years ago

In America, we used to whip our slaves, not only to hurt them and punish them, but also to humiliate them. We got over it after a civil war. I hope Saudi Arabia gets over it sooner rather than later. It is a pathetic practice, delivered by a pathetic backward government.

Sandra L.
Sandra L.4 years ago

It may seem that this is too small a gesture, but it will take time to overcome the ingrained mentality of this kind of culture if you want to make any real change, perhaps that would be best achieved by small patient steps.

Diane L.
Diane L.5 years ago

Jose, "Should the women of Saudi Arabia consider boycotting the elections until they are allowed to drive, go to the hospital, and travel on their own as well?".....wouldn't that not be defeating the entire purpose of getting those rights? They don't get to participate in elections NOW, so "boycotting" will accomplish nothing......actually just keep things "status quo".