Women get to vote in Saudi Arabia, yet still not free

Women in Saudi Arabia are able, for the first time in history, to register as candidates for the country’s municipal elections in December 2015. Even if “the government did a poor job informing women about registration procedures and opened too few registration stations” as the NYT claimed. It seems that King Abdullah has noticed with his 2011 royal decree that marginalize women in society, is not considered as the best option a governor can opt for.

This new reality has been considered an important milestone in progress and a step towards equality, but if you deeply analyze this supposedly notorious change, you can be able to set up some conclusions.

According to Freedom House’s Organization annual report, in Saudi Arabia “Political parties are forbidden, and organized political opposition exists only outside the country”. If you evaluate for a second the right to vote as a whole, you can clearly state that there is a political repression within a very closed political system, in which citizens that do not follow the aligned monarchy could be considered as terrorists. Not to talk about that women’s role it is an advance on paper only.

Political decision-making is controlled by the King and his Consultative Council, as well as the expression in social media, which is also under restrictive measures. If elections are not free, they will not have a wide impact on society. If inside the country no-one has freedom of speech, neither will women. As a  UK-based rights group said “let’s not forget that Saudi Arabian women won’t actually be able to drive themselves to the voting booths as they are still completely banned from driving”. So the questions are how can women participate in the political life? If they cannot travel around to enforce their political opinion, how can they work as a politician?.

Despite all these facts, there has been a lot of barriers in the development or situation of women in Saudi Arabia, but the problem is not just a matter of barriers that exist, but also a problem comparing to the way that Arab societies think. On the other hand, you can see that this advance is given by not only women, but also men who want to empower women. Some men who believe in equal rights and hold power, which is very influential taking into account that those who always had voice in the region were men. The paperwork involved in the process of acceptance of these rights have had many barriers, women still do not have many rights that men have and this creates a big amount of problems in society. It has already overcome the barrier of the change and now women can vote to vote and can be represented.

While It is true that this is an advancement of women’s right in Saudi Arabia – and it should be considered a vitally important measure that needed to be taken- CNN put it best “participation in a meaningless system is meaningless itself”.


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