A Small Step Forward: Saudi Women Allowed to Vote in 2015
Last weekend, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced that, for the first time, women will be permitted to vote and compete in municipal elections in 2015. This decision comes two years after the first appointment of a woman as a deputy minister in the King's Cabinet. While these two advances in women's rights have come slowly, they mark a major change in the King's attitude toward women in a historically restrictive regime.
The recent decision to allow women to vote has been met with cautious celebration from international human rights groups. Providing women with the right to vote in municipal elections is certainly an important step for their autonomy and ability to participate in civic activities; however the implementation date is still four years away, and an election in which women will not be allowed to participate is scheduled for Thursday.
The Western media and activists have also consistently used the ban on women drivers as a rallying point around which to campaign against women's rights violations in Saudi Arabia, and this ban remains intact. Mohammad Fahad Qahtani, a college professor and human rights advocate, states: "It's a mixed feeling. On one hand [King Abdullah] opens the door for her and on the other hand she is still banned from driving...It doesn't save her from horrible treatment by government agencies and the courts. It's a symbolic gesture, but it is in no way enough to improve the lives of women."
It is likely that the recent progress in women's rights is related to the Arab Spring; perhaps the King wishes to avert any uprisings that might threaten his control. Regardless of his intentions, any advances in rights for Saudi women are applauded. We call on the Saudi people to continue to push their government toward equality for all.
Katharine Nasielski is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant.