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."

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I am torn about whether I should be pleased by this development or not. I am happy that women in Saudi Arabia can now vote but I am also scared that sometimes leaders make changes that appear to be positive yet the actual implementation of the rights will be nearly impossible therefore making the reforms merely cosmetic. I am worried about the implications of granting women the right to vote when that right is not accompanied by guarantees that the women will exercise it fully. For instance what is to stop the men from refusing to drive the women to the polling stations on voting day since women still can not drive, what is to stop men from resisting mixing with these women at polling stations unless female only voting booths are created. We will hope for the best trusting that these reforms are a genuine effort at transforming a highly patriarchal society.

by Patricia Otuka-... (not verified)

hopefully implementation of the law will be possible and women enabled to participate in public decision making processes! I am sure the struggle still continues for women in Saudi Arabia but it was indeed a much needed positive step forward!

The fact remains that women's representation and participation in the decision-making process remains key to the achievement of Gender Equality. It is always a step in the right direction when women's interests are taken into account. Kudos to the Saudi Authorities!

Its a great achievement, any one in/from Saudi Arabia to share some personal experiences around this occurrence?

It will be interesting to hear about the personal meaning for women to have this right and how they anticipate it will change their lives and those of the next generation.

For me it's a reminder to treasure the rights i take for granted, that i can chose to vote or not, to drive or not, to contest the presidential elections or not.

This is also significant as it will inspire a desire for more rights, to participate in the elections, to make gender sensitive laws and also to benefit from political, social and economic resources.

Congratulations to all our Saudi sisters who have fought for this and to all the sisters who will stand up and claim this right.

Lombe Mwambwa "I think a woman has two choices: either she's a feminist or a masochist." Gloria Steinem

ça m'a fait tellement plaisir de ecouter cette message.de remet encore cette droit au femmes saudite et de le considere aussi comme être capable.vraiment toute mes felicitation

sylvie

Que les femmes Saoudienne aient les courages d'aller de l'avant en revendiquant leurs droits, en les dénonçant pour que leur communauté sache que la femme a droit de participer aux différents domaines pour le développement de pays.

Brigitte