Suffragettes in Saudi Arabia

By: Sophie P

Women in Saudi Arabia will finally be able to run and vote for municipal office in the upcoming December elections this year. The late King of the Saudi Arabian monarchy, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, realized this significant reform in 2011 and this year’s municipal elections present the opportunity to exercise this reform. Approximately 70 women are interested in running, as candidates and 80 have registered to become campaign managers. According to Time Magazine. Saudi Arabia is, and remains a unitary Islamic absolute monarchy, meaning members of state are often appointed by the King and matters of greater importance are still decided by the inherited establishment, limiting the changes brought about by this reform. In addition to their undemocratic political system hindering women from leading the country, the dominant religion in Saudi Arabia is a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam granting men custody over women; further restricting women from many freedoms. For example, women are not allowed to leave the house without a male guardian, drive a car, compete in sports (the first Saudi Arabian female sports team competed at the London Olympic Games in 2012), and much more. This leads many Non-governmental organizations to be skeptical as to how significant this reform is, and whether granting female suffrage is enough to end deep-seated gender inequality. According to Amnesty International, the king should have granted women more than just electoral rights. Philip Luther, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa states, “the whole system of women’s subordination to men in Saudi Arabia needs to be dismantled.” “While moving in the right direction, Saudi Arabia is moving far too slowly. Ultimately, it is no great achievement to be one of the last countries in the world to grant women the vote.” Despite the fact that more than half of Saudi graduates are women, according to Saudi governmental statistics, the workforce is 87% male, and Saudi Arabia is 130th out of 142 countries in the ranking by the 2014 World Economic Forum global gender gap report.

Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is not the only country to have limited female suffrage in past. Many other countries currently prohibit women taking part in politics. The government of the Nation of Brunei is run by a sultan who appoints officials to work alongside him, in which neither men, nor women can vote in national elections. The Lebanese Republic only allows women who have had a primary education vote, but do not require the same of men. Finally, the leader of the Holy See is elected by the College of Cardinals and only men are eligible to become cardinals. While there is still is a lot to be done to achieve gender equality, allowing women to run and vote in local office marks a crucial milestone in women’s suffrage and empowerment, especially in countries where women are subject to patriarchal values.

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