By: Katarina Allen
On Sunday, Sept. 25th Saudi Arabia’s King Adullah announced that women can vote in the local elections that will be held in 2015. Not only did King Abdullah give women the right to vote, but he also announced that, “As of the next session (in 2015), women will have the right to nominate themselves for membership of Municipal Councils, and also have the right to participate in the nomination of candidates with the Islamic guidelines.” The local elections in Saudi Arabia began on Sept. 29, 2011, five days after women were given these rights, but they must wait four more years to exercise their newly acquired right to vote.
The White House responded to this announcement by saying “These reforms recognize the significant contributions women in Saudi Arabia make to their society and will offer them new ways to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and communities.” The move, according to the White House, is “an important step forward in expanding the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.” The United States is getting ready for its next presidential election, which will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6 2012. It has been 95 years since women earned the right to vote due to the creation of the Nineteenth Amendment that prohibits state and federal agencies from gender-based restrictions on voting. Now, in 2011, Saudi Arabian women have finally been given the right to vote in local elections.
Professors at Sweet Briar, a private all women’s college, feel that this announcement is great news for the increasing role of women in politics around the world. Padmini Coopamah, assistant professor and co-chair of the department of government and international affairs, when asked how important this event is replied, “VERY. It may not be for national elections, and things may be a little rocky at first, but political rights are such that, once you give them, they consolidate over time and lead to other rights. Obviously the royal family, the House of Saud, has a tight grip on power, so we are not talking about the appearance of democracy any time soon, but I think this is a preemptive step in the kingdom in reaction to the Arab spring and the agitation by Saudi women in recent months for more rights.”
Maria El-Abd ’12 was asked “What other policies do you think will change in Saudi Arabia due to the voting rights given to women?” She responded, “As far as I know there is nothing in the Quran forbidding women from voting in Islam, just as there’s nothing forbidding them from driving. As long as she’s doing nothing wrong, why not let her drive? If they’re doing this to protect women, I would think letting them drive by themselves is certainly better than having a strange man chauffeur them wherever they need to go.”
Muslims believe the Quran to be the book of divine guidance and direction for humanity and consider the text in its original Arabic language to be the literal word of God; they view the Quran as God’s final revelation to humanity.
Professor Coopemah was asked the same question as El-Abd ’12 and responded, “Difficult to say, it is not the most transparent regime in the world. There is a more modernist faction, but the traditionalists have a firm grip. It would be nice to see some changes like women not needing male relatives to escort them everywhere, but it is hard to say how soon (or if) such a change in social practice is likely to happen.”
Saudi women’s rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider in an interview stated “Women’s voices will finally be heard. Now it’s time to remove other barriers like not allowing women to drive cars and not being able to function and live a normal life without a male guardian.”
El-Abd ’12 was also asked if this change for women in Saudi Arabia was a long time coming and she responded, “Women, not just in Saudi Arabia, but throughout the world, have been seeking equality for a while. Even in America, efforts to receive equal pay for the same job are still going on. By no means is this a trend exclusive to the Middle East.”
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