Saudi Arabia grants women the right to vote for the first time in its modern history as part of changes King Abdullah said will let them run in future municipal elections.
"We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society in every field of work," Abdullah said yesterday on state television. "Women have the right to submit their candidacy for municipal council membership and have the right to take part in submitting candidates in accordance with Shariah."
Saudi Arabia enforces gender restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Men and women are strictly segregated in public, including at schools, restaurants and lines at fast-food takeouts. That keeps women out of sales jobs in malls and stores, unless the outlet caters exclusively to a female clientele, and they are also barred from driving.
The king also said yesterday women can now be part of the Shoura Council, his advisory body. Abdullah, who was born in 1924, has promised to improve the status of women and opened the first co-educational university in 2009. He appointed the kingdom's first female deputy minister, Nora bint Abdullah al- Fayez, the same year and has said he will provide women more access to jobs.
"We hope that with Saudi women going to the municipal council, they will be able to drive in the future," Ibrahim al- Mugaiteeb, president of the Human Rights First Society, said in a phone interview from al-Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia yesterday. "It is a huge step forward."