Saudi Women Register to Vote: But Will There Be Progression Civilly?
As of 2015, Saudi women have finally won the right to vote and run in municipal elections. Voter registration began this August and goes through mid-September.
This has been in the works since 2011 when the now-late King Abdullah announced that he was granting women the right to vote and run as candidates. Municipal councils are the only elected bodies in the entire kingdom. Two-thirds of the seats in the elected council are based upon votes, with the rest of the council seats granted by appointment.
While this is great news, will it actually lead to any progression for women civilly? In a country with little to no gender equality, we may wonder what affect these political advancements will have in these women’s day-to-day lives.
In Saudi Arabia, women have “male guardians,” that may be compared to the relationship between a parent and their child. Women must ask for permission to do almost anything outside of the household, including travel, work, going to school, or seeking medical attention. While there is no law stating that women cannot drive, they are not permitted to have driving licenses, which essentially has the same result. See the facts and myths about human right violations in Saudi Arabia in the Washington Post article here.
According to the Saudi Gazette, the turn-out for voting registration has been low. Adam Coogle, a Middle East Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told PBS that this is likely due to the civil obstacles that women face. “To register, women need a valid ID card and proof of residency, which can be difficult to obtain since their names are usually not listed on deeds or utility bills…Women also can’t drive to registration sites unless they are accompanied by a male.”
And even if they can vote – the municipal elections and council handle local matters only, as PBS states, such as zoning. Will this lead to votes towards driver’s licenses? Or the deterioration of the male guardianship system that permeates through the country? We hope the answer is yes. If anything, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: AMY VAUGHN
As a Montclair State University graduate with a BA in English, my first love is writing, specifically nonfiction and short stories. International human rights and women’s rights are also strong passions of mine. I hope to someday be able to call myself Chief Editor, human rights advocate, and jewelry designer. I can’t live without Mad Men (er, Netflix), soy chai lattes, or my adorable Wheaten terrier, Pippin.