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Saudi Women Win Right to Vote…Just Not Yet…

September 29, 2011
Emmeline Pankhurst addresses a crowd in New Yo...

Image via Wikipedia

So King Abdullah is big on reform, says he respects women’s rights, and has stated that women will be allowed to vote.  And before anyone in the U.S. gets too uppity about this notice, please remember that women haven’t had the right to vote for even a hundred years yet in the U.S.  The U.S. wasn’t the first country to allow both genders to vote either according to Wikipedia:

Limited voting rights were gained by some women in Sweden, Britain, and some western U.S. states in the 1860s. In 1893, the British colony of New Zealand became the first self-governing nation to extend the right to vote to all adult women, and the women of the nearby colony of South Australia achieved the same right in 1895 but became the first to obtain also the right to stand (run) for Parliament (women did not win the right to run for the New Zealand legislature until 1919).[3][4] The first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was the Grand Principality of Finland and that country, then a part of the Russian Empire with autonomous powers, produced the world’s first female members of parliament as a result of the 1907 parliamentary elections.

Women’s right to vote was recognized in the U.S. in 1920.  We have only 90 years going for us.  Notice that New Zealand was way ahead of us in this regard. The above picture is of the formidable Emmeline Pankhurst who pushed for women’s rights back in 1903.

But back to King Abdullah, who has granted that women have a right to vote, the real kick in the head  is that this right doesn’t kick in for another four years, with an election going on right now:

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, considered a reformer by the standards of his own ultraconservative kingdom, decreed on Sunday that women will for the first time have the right to vote and run in local elections due in 2015…

That women must wait four more years to exercise their newly acquired right to vote adds insult to injury since Sunday’s announcement was already a long time coming — and the next local elections are in fact scheduled for this Thursday.

“Why not tomorrow?” asked prominent Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Hawaidar. “I think the king doesn’t want to shake the country, but we look around us and we think it is a shame … when we are still pondering how to meet simple women’s rights.”

Why not tomorrow? Well, it seems King Abdullah doesn’t want to piss off conservatives who believe that women are the property of men, not equals. I have to say though, that King Abdullah is smart: he might be trying to prevent the political uprisings that have stripped nearby neighbors of their family’s royal power.  King Abdullah, no matter the criticisms levied against him, is taking a big step for an 86-year old ruler of an ultraconservative country:

King Abdullah said his decision came because “we refuse marginalising women’s role in the Saudi society in all fields,” and followed “consultations with several scholars.”

He did not mention anything about women’s right to drive in the kingdom where they must hire male chauffeurs, or depend on the goodwill of relatives if they do not have the means.

However, he said that “balanced modernisation which agrees with our Islamic values is a necessary demand in an epoch where there is no place for those who are hesitant” in moving forward.

Women may be able to vote in 2015, but will they be able to drive with legal protection as well? If King Abdullah keeps this up, he will never be ousted from power–think of all the support he will get from the women of his country. I gotta say:  it’s a fucking brilliant political move.

“Balanced modernization, which falls within our Islamic values, is an important demand in an era where there is no place for defeatist or hesitant people,” he said.

“Muslim women in our Islamic history have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice,” said the king.


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