Bridging the gap

By Kate Hassett

Bridging the gap
In a landmark decision for the middle-eastern kingdom, Saudi Arabia will give women the opportunity to vote for the very first time.

Dozens of women are expected to nominate themselves in municipal elections after Saudi Arabia’s landmark decision to allow women the right to vote.

For the first time in the kingdom’s history, women will be given the right to vote, run for office and register candidacy for the municipal elections held this December.

The decision came after the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud allowed for the change back in 2011.

With an estimated 70 women planning to register as candidates and an additional 80 signing on as campaign managers, this is an incredible step towards acknowledging women’s rights in the infamously conservative country.

The decision is one women’s rights activists had been working towards for quite some time but, had previously been unsuccessful in changing the views imposed by a strict Sunni Islam law. The same law that prevents women from driving or travelling without the consent of a male guardian, will be amended to include women in the political process that so often determines their position in society.

Fawzia Abu Khalid, a political sociologist at King Saud University in Riyadha told Al Jazeera that this landmark decision was a step towards moderation and acceptance as well as reflecting a broader change in values.

“I think there is the realisation from different groups, including the conservative groups, that what happened in the past, where their voice was the only representative in society, would no longer continue,” she said.

The municipal council’s responsibilities include overseeing urban and development projects, suggesting planning regulations and approving annual budgets.

Whilst the policy is a step in the right direction, many argue that the restrictions on municipal roles stop women from enacting any real societal change.

In a statement released by Amnesty International when the decision was announced in 2011, a spokesperson said the the ruing was “much overdue” and does “not go nearly far enough.”

“We can only hope that this announcement on voting will be the first in a long line of reforms that guarantee Saudi women the rights that they have been demanding for so long.”

Do you think this is a step forwards in acknowledging women’s rights under Sunni law, or is this simply a move to placate a murmuring resistance?





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