Saudi Women Gain Right to Vote, But Not Drive

September 26, 2011

Saudi Arabian women face severe discrimination in many areas of their lives © AP GraphicsBank

Yesterday, Saudi King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, including appointing women to the advisory body, the Shura Council.

What may sound like a drastic breakthrough for the conservative kingdom, known for its sex segregation and crass gender inequalities, only presents a limited step towards a more gender egalitarian society.

Notwithstanding the significance of the right to vote, which enables Saudi women to finally become an integral part of the political life, concerns about the effectiveness of this newly granted law remain. Restrictions concerning women’s mobility, particularly the ban to drive and travel without a male chaperone, certainly present obstacles for women to run for office. How can one successfully campaign without being allowed to drive?

In relation to the King’s grant to the right to vote, the concern of mobility, might not appear as time sensitive: Saudi women were solely granted the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, namely in 2015. Four years stand before Saudi women to continue the fight for ‘mobile’ autonomy and many other rights still refused to half of the Saudi population.

Despite the abundant hardship faced by Saudi women to fully enjoy the right to vote and run for office, the King’s decision was welcomed by many female activists. Maha al-Qahtani, one of the women who recently defied the ban of driving told the New York Times:

“It is a good sign, and we have to take advantage of it…But we still need more rights.”

Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, Saudi Arabia Country Specialist for Amnesty USA contributed to this post