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Slowly but surely—How a king’s speech steers a nation

Slowly but surely—How a king’s speech steers a nation

Will Saudi’s Shura council welcoming women’s votes and elections permanently open the floodgates for women’s empowerment in the Kingdom or test the patience of the conservatives, asks Precious de Leon.

September 26, 2011 12:33 by

Kipp reported on the story yesterday and it has now earned top billing in every newspaper and news sites in the region and has garnered international attention as well. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced something that a lot of people never thought they’d see in their lifetime: women have been given the right to vote and be elected into the Kingdom’s consultative council.

It may be just a sweeping headline for some dailies but this is an extraordinary move for the country that remains deeply rooted in its cultural, traditional and historical edicts of race, gender and religious acceptance.

The announcement comes a few weeks after the somewhat lukewarm results from dampened efforts by women’s groups to protest for their right to drive on Saudi’s roads.

The move will surely have a domino effect on other women’s issues such as career advancement and other civil rights such as being able to travel independent of a male guardian’s permission.

Slowly but surely the King has made some significant headway into bringing women’s voices to the forefront. It may not sound like much to those unfamiliar with Saudi’s pace of government but this is equivalent to a giant leap, indeed, and is no small matter.

And Kipp does not profess to be an expert on the matter, as such we bring you an editorial from our Saudi-based friends at Arab News, who are undoubtedly closer to this topic:

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s announcement that women will become members of the Shura Council (consultative body) and will be allowed to vote and contest the municipal elections is an extraordinary development.

The king, who is quietly leading the incremental changes at a measured pace, urged his countrymen to meet the challenges and obstacles on their path and work hard to overcome them. He said the Kingdom aims to achieve balanced modernization that conforms to Islamic teachings and values while emphasizing the key role played by women in Islamic history.

Change has been slow, but the king has accelerated the reform process by working within a consensus that takes into account the varied viewpoints in the Kingdom. The sagacious king has bided his time in bringing about these changes, thus highlighting his vision with clarity and determination.

Abdullah, who has bridged centuries of change, has been the catalyst of change in the Kingdom. For the past decade, he has been stressing that women are pivotal for the country’s well being. And he has been initiating reforms, one of the latest being the appointment of a woman to the Cabinet.

So changes, although imperceptible, are under way. Steps to tackle segregation, women’s empowerment and education and providing more respect to women have been taken and woven into the system gradually. Today’s decision, however, is a momentous step that could change the social and political fabric of the Kingdom. The right for women to join the Shoura Council is significant as it is the most influential political body in the country.

The Shoura, established in 1993, offers opinions on general policies in the Kingdom and debates economic and social development plans. Till now, the council viewed the issues in a one-dimensional frame, with the views and advice coming mostly from men.

Now with the women taking their place in the council, many issues would be viewed from a multidimensional perspective.

Although the announcement was not totally unexpected, it came as a surprise. The king has been a strong supporter of women’s issues and has listened to and acted for their empowerment. That it was a surprise is in the timing. He could have used the occasion of the National Day to make these announcements, but he chose not to. He used the august consultative body to give women two major rights.

In announcing the reforms, the king rooted his decision in religion and appreciated the Ulema for supporting him. The announcement also acknowledged the yearning for greater social…


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