For the first time in modern history, Saudi Arabian women are allowed to vote once they have registered to do so. In 2011, King Abdullah, who has since died, ruled that women would be allowed to vote and run as candidates starting in 2015. This week a couple of women were the first to register for the upcoming December municipal elections.
“A handful of women, including an 18-year-old, registered in Medina and Mecca, where the process began early. Voter registration opened up in the rest of the country on Saturday, and candidates can begin signing up Aug. 30. Men and women will vote in separate polling places,” wrote The Washington Post.
Activists welcomed the news, but were not exactly rejoicing.
“While it’s a sign of progress, allowing women to stand and vote in elections — and then only municipal elections — is not enough to secure women’s full integration into Saudi public life,” wrote Adam Coogle for Human Rights Watch in a report on CNN.
Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most repressive countries for women, and there is a long list of things women are unable to do. Women are forbidden from driving, and must be accompanied in public by a male guardian. They have to have expressed permission from their male guardian to work, travel, or attend higher education. So while the right to vote and run as a candidate in municipal elections could be considered a step forward, it is a baby step at most.
Saudi women campaigned for this right for years, and their achievement shouldn’t be minimized. But Saudi Arabia remains an autocratic hereditary monarchy and one of the most repressive nations on Earth for women. This reform is not much more than window dressing that, in its superficiality, calls attention to just how unfree the country remains — particularly for women, via Vox.
So, it another words, Saudi Arabia has given women the (limited) right to vote, but it is largely symbolic.
[Washington Post] [CNN] [Vox] [Photo courtesy Stringer/Reuters]