Saudi women obtain expanded political participation rights

Saudi women will be allowed to vote in elections and serve in political positions. [Fahad Shadeed/Reuters]

Saudi women will be allowed to vote in elections and serve in political positions. [Fahad Shadeed/Reuters]

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Women in Saudi Arabia expressed relief following King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud's decision to allow women to participate as members in the Shura Council and municipal councils.

The king announced on September 25th that women will be able to serve in the consultative Shura Council as members in two years and as voters and candidates in municipal councils in four years.

Municipal elections, the second of its kind in Saudi Arabia's history, began in the kingdom Thursday (September 29th). Results are expected to be announced Saturday.

Dr. Mohammed al-Zulfa, a former member of the Saudi Shura Council, considered Saudi women's membership in the Shura Council and municipal councils as "a very important step on the road of empowering women to participate in all areas of public life and bridging the gender gap between men and women."

Al-Zulfa said the king's decision was "natural and expected," after it was approved by the Association of Religious Scholars and leading Sharia scholars in Saudi Arabia to make sure that women's political participation does not contradict with the tolerant rules and principles of Islam. He noted that the king's decision enhanced the image of Islam in giving women all of their rights.

"The presence of Saudi women in political circles is a natural and legitimate thing and conforms with the teachings of our religion, especially as Saudi women have sought science and have already become doctors, teachers, engineers and traders," al-Zulfa added. "Saudi Arabia now needs more than ever to benefit from women to help promote society's progress and development in all fields."

Asked about granting Saudi Arabian women the right to drive, al-Zulfa said he believes it is only a matter of time. He said that implementation of such a step is assured as long as women have been given leading decision-making positions and the ability to draw up strategic policies and development plans, something that paves the way for them to obtain more privileges and rights.

Dr. Wafaa Tiba, an advisor in the Shura Council, said the king's new initiative affirms the efforts that were made to promote women's issues and find a balanced formula between men and women.

She said that women's membership in the Shura Council would give them unprecedented political weight that would allow them to make decisions and give advice to the kingdom's leaders. She expected that women in the Shura Council would assume stronger leading roles than the consultative position that is restricted to attending meetings as part of specific specialisations.

Tiba denied that allowing women to take part in the Shura Council and municipal councils came late.

"It came at exactly the right time that suits the circumstances of the current era in which Saudi society can accept this radical change rather than have it imposed from abroad," she said.

Dr. Suhaila Zain al-Abedine, a member of the Saudi National Human Rights Association and the International Union of Muslim Scholars, said the king's decision was consistent with increased calls to expand women's rights to include political and municipal participation, especially because the issue has been debated for a long time among top scholars and faqihs.

Zain al-Abedine described the king's step as "elaborate" and conforms to the reforms the king adopted to strike a gender balance between men and women in political participation and in making an active contribution to public life. She considered the king's decision as a prelude to allowing Saudi women to drive in the near future.

"The king's initiative has rehabilitated Saudi women and restored their God-given natural rights," Zain al-Abedine added. "At the time of Prophet Mohammed, the woman exercised her political rights in elections, allegiance, shura and guardianship in full. She even became the first muhtasiba (in Islamic doctrine, the person who keeps everything in order within Islamic law) in the history of Islam at the time of Commander of the Believers Omar ben al-Khattab. This is in addition to her role in establishing the early Islamic state and building Islamic civilization. She was also entrusted with the secret of Prophet Mohammed's hijra and the copying of the Qur'an and some hadiths at the time of the Companions."

Zain al-Abedine said the king's decision supports Muslim women in general and Saudi women in particular. The initiative restored their political and social prestige, given that they have proven their scientific and intellectual capacities throughout the history of Islam. She confirmed that involving women in politics is a positive step and furnishes an important base for reforming religious discourse that prohibits women's right to guardianship.

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    lphdmahaayd

    2011-10-14

    The Saudi woman has suffered for long periods from clear marginalization against her in the Saudi society, which looks upon the woman with a different view from that of the whole world. The Saudi woman has suffered a lot from the Saudi society’s view, which has greatly limited the Saudi woman’s aspirations; this society which not know anything about the woman, except that she is a housewife who does not have any rights except to manage the household and the children. Today, we are living in the twenty-first century, and we see that the woman in many countries, at least in the countries of the region, has started to hold many leading positions in her country. From here, I believe that the reforms which the King of Saudi Arabia has carried out are among the necessary reforms which should be carried out, especially because the world today is looking upon the woman with a look of respect and admiration, after she has presented many works and contributed to the development of many sectors, thanks to her creative and innovative thoughts.

  • smal

    2011-10-14

    I think that the reforms related to women that were implemented by the Saudi King are a positive action, which we bless. We would like it to be applied in reality, in order to save Saudi women from their deteriorating and declining reality. This is also for the benefit of the Saudi community, and also to change the negative view of this community, which is seen by many, because of the poor treatment of women. This is especially true since Saudi Arabia is considered the Islamic guiding center all over the world. It must abide by the regulations approved by our pure Islamic religion, which grants Muslim women a lot of rights through which they can contribute to participating with men in building the community. Here, we are aware of the importance of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeking to institute these reforms related to women, which the Saudi women have long waited for. We bless and praise these reforms, which will help Saudi women to enter political life through their participation in the Shura Council and municipal councils in the Kingdom. They will promote reforms and move towards a true democratic life which everyone aspires to, where these reforms will have many impacts on changing the pessimistic view which some people have towards Saudi women. We support these reforms, and Saudi women should obtain their complete rights, as they have the same efficiency as men.

  • زهرء

    2011-10-14

    These words which say that the woman is always oppressed and suppressed by the society, no two people can differ on them. Therefore, it has become necessary that there should be rapid and effective interventions for changing this situation and trying to put the woman in her rightful place and elevating her status, because she deserves to participate in managing the society.

  • قيدار علي

    2011-10-13

    We are in the twenty-first century; the century of civilization, openness, development, technology and advancement. However, Saudi women are suffering from negligence and from not getting any of their rights. Saudi women are the most discriminated against women in the Arab world, and they suffer the most from the great control exerted by men and from the tribal environment, which is still considered backward in many aspects, especially since the Saudi society has many big reservations against women and their rights and duties. Women there are only thought of as females, nothing more and nothing less. They forgot their role in the society and forgot that women are the ones who raise children; they are the mothers and they could possibly have a great role in participating in the society and making decisions and working to serve their country. All these things are missing for Saudi women. They can’t even drive cars, because this is banned, and there are great reservations regarding this thing. Consequently, Saudi women need somebody to save them and provide them with their rights. Indeed, the gesture of the King of Saudi Arabia, the servant of the two honorable sacred mosques, is a great gesture for women and will be remembered in history, as he admitted that women should have a role in life and should participate. In his speech, the king recognized women’s important role throughout history, and even in Islam. He gave women the right to run and vote in the Shura council, thus taking an unprecedented step which is considered the first of a kind. This reform was brought about by the Saudi king through the advocacy of women’s rights activists, who called for recognizing Saudi women’s role and rights in life.

  • طالب

    2011-10-13

    Saudi women’s participation in political life is a very mighty step. It will have a great role in changing Saudi women and helping them get their rights through having representatives that call for their rights in the Shura council in the country, especially since all religious scholars gave their opinion and approved this step. That is because it is a great step in reforming women’s conditions in Saudi Arabia and in improving their situation so that they would at least get one of their rights as members of this society.