Granting Women the Right to Vote in Saudi Arabia is Only a Tiny Step Toward Equality, Says Amnesty International

Press Release
September 26, 2011

Granting Women the Right to Vote in Saudi Arabia is Only a Tiny Step Toward Equality, Says Amnesty International

All Repressive Laws Against Women Must Change, Rights Group Asserts

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) -- Granting women in Saudi Arabia the right to vote is a welcome step, Amnesty International said today, but authorities  must take the much larger step toward dismantling the  entire system in place to repress and discriminate against women.

"It is a welcome, albeit limited, step along the long road towards gender equality in Saudi Arabia, and a testament to the long struggle of women's rights activists there," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

 "It is much overdue and does not go nearly far enough," said Luther, in response to King Abdullah's  announcement Sunday that women will have the right to vote and run in municipal elections. Beginning in 2015, women also can be appointed to the Shura Council, a body that advises the monarchy.  Municipal elections are the country's only public poll.

"The whole system of women's subordination to men in Saudi Arabia needs to be dismantled," said Luther. "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," said Luther.

"We can only hope that this announcement on voting will be the first in a long line of reforms that guarantee Saudi women the rights that they have been demanding for so long."

Under Saudi Arabia's repressive laws, women can't travel, work outside the home, enroll in higher education, or marry, without the permission of a male guardian.

Women are also still unable to legally drive in the kingdom. A high profile right to drive campaign launched by Saudi women in June this year led to dozens of arrests.

The women were all released shortly afterwards, but only after being forced to sign a pledge that they would not drive again. Several are reported to be facing court cases.

The concept of guardianship of men over women, as applied in Saudi Arabia, severely limits women's rights in their private and public lives, In addition, Saudi Arabian women married to foreign nationals cannot pass on their nationality to their children, unlike the case for Saudi Arabian men in a similar situation.

Domestic violence against women is reported to be rife in the country.

 Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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