What a wonderful surprise – Saudi women will vote!

Saudi women recently woke up to a welcome announcement from King Abdullah that they will be able to vote and run in future municipal elections. Could hardly believe it.  Have lived and worked in Riyadh and understood that changes were coming, but not so much so soon. But unfortunately Western commentators are giving it a negative spin by pointing out that KSA is still behind the West when it comes to women’s rights. Not surprising since in the West we started empowering women a hundred years ago. We should instead focus on the giant step forward King Abdullah took and rejoice that the kingdom is finally changing.  Am absolutely delighted and want to share with you what a female Saudi Arabian academic has to say about it in this 5 minute video:

Wrote an article “Saudi women – a force to be reckoned with” that has been widely read and had hugely positive response from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world. Only a few non-Saudi Muslim men working in the Kingdom have been critical. Shared the breaking news about the right to vote on Linkedin the minute it broke on Sunday and the same men were, predictably, critical. Saudi men though sent me messages pointing out that these men are not Saudi and that their remarks are wrong and very unfortunate.

Discrimination against women is now ending in the Kingdom. The marginalization of women in society is, according to the King, the main factor that’s slowing down progress in KSA. In his speech, King Abdullah actually went as far as taking a stand against those who oppose progressive thinking and are reluctant to give women their due rights and praised the Ulema i.e the religious establishment for supporting him.

Saudis love their King

Don’t know the king but we have mutual friends and they all describe him as a good and kind bedouin who genuninely wants to improve peoples lives.  Not surpsingly Saudis love their king who has long been a strong supporter of women’s issues and acted for their empowerment. Lived in Riyadh when he became king in 2005. One of the first decrees he issued was to tell the religious police to stay out of commercial premises. Hence never needed to wear the hijab.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

For women in Saudi Arabia this is a huge step forward. Like with everything in life, there will be setbacks but eventually they will enjoy the same rights as women in the rest of the world. How long it will take is anyone’s guess. But it’s coming. In Saudi Arabia not only women but many men as well are happy about the King’s announcement. From what I understand a lot of young Saudi men are no longer interested in having a housewife but want to marry a woman who works.

Educated Saudi women will lead the way

Now the elite of ecucated Saudi women will take the lead to do what their sisters in the West did a hundred years ago and speak on behalf of women who are under priviliged and oppressed. Motivate them to become active citizens and help Saudi Arabia prosper. They will, like earlier generations of women in the West, have to be role models for other women in order to build a socially, politically and economically strong and progressive nation. And they will succeed not least because they passionately want to. In fact I know that many will be delighted to finally be allowed to do so.

It will obviously take time to make especially older women start having a life outside their home. The young girls though, believe me, will be delighted. They used to say to me that they couldn’t understand what I was doing in Riyadh since they wanted to be in the West and have a career and fun.

What’s your opinion? Do you agreee that it was a wonderful and welcome surprise and that King Abdullah will now go down in history as the reformer who paved way for progress in Saudi Arabia? That from this day on the whole world will be monitoring the new role of Saudi women as decision makers? Will conservatives in the Kingdom defy their King and try to prevent equality for women? Should the rest of the world focus on the positive aspects instead of expecting Saudi Arabia to change over night? Is it time for Saudi bashing to stop and for the world to recognize the fact that The Custodian of The Holy Mosques took the decision to empower women and include them in public life? Or should we, like some, lament the fact that he is in favour of gender equality?

(Video: AlJazeeraEnglish – You Tube)

36 thoughts on “What a wonderful surprise – Saudi women will vote!

  1. Nice article; I agree with you that the announcement made by HRH King Abdullah was a wonderful surprise; it was a brave decision and no doubt history will record it for him. If you are following the changes and reforms occurred since HRH appointment, you can be certain that king abdullah's government has been keen to make positive challenges changes supporting Saudi society (including males, females, young, old, children, …etc). In my opinion, this particular announcement is considered to be the seed for a (new) modern Saudi society; with proper understanding of Islamic gender equality. I do believe that the whole world is going to be supportive for HRH decision toward women’s empowerment and hopefully we are going to witness serious involvements in all sectors (politics, education, technology…etc) in a reasonable time. I am quite certain if the right Saudi woman is positioned in the right place, the world will witness an outstanding model for females as decision makers. To make it short, the Custodian of The Holy Mosques took the decision to empower women and nothing is going to stop that changes now, and we only need to focus on moving on forward with the clock….

  2. Glad you share my excitement Keyuri. By the way, it's not yet allowed to celebrate Valentine in public. It's done behind closed doors. And women are in public without a male member of their family present. But give it time and Valentine will be celebrated in public.

  3. I think it's an extremely important and very welcome announcement, Catarina, and hope that this is just the start of increasing equality for women in the Kingdom. A good next step would be to allow women to drive (or, at least, to stop prosecuting them for doing so).

    1. Glad you agree with me Guy. Am delighted the king gave them the right to vote and didn't just allow them to drive. By the way, many educated Saudi women drive with windows that are almost black:-)

  4. Clearly giving women the right to vote is a step in the right direction and it is to be hoped that more steps will follow without some form of backlash from the religious establishment. We should remember, of course, that Saudi men have limitations to their democratic freedoms so I think the modernisation and democratisation process in SA still has a long way to go. At least I will be watching developments with more optimism than in the past.

  5. This is truly wonderful news Catarina and a huge advancement for women in Saudi Arabia. This will serve as an inspiration for women elsewhere in the world. There is hope for equal rights although it’s a long way off Naturally, there will be opposition and it’s truly unfortunate that Western commentators are casting a negative light. I do agree that King Abdullah will go down in history for this.
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    1. Yes it's great isn't it Sherryl!! Wonder why so many Westerners have to put a negative spin on it. The king will and should go down in history for doing what he is doing. We are talking about one of the only "closed" countries in the world. And the Ulema is actually supporting him.

  6. Hey Catarina, that is indeed wonderful news.

    What an interesting life you have lead to have lived there and also to have mutual friends of the King.

    What do your parents thing? Do they feel proud and awestruck that you are such a worldly young woman … with brains and adventure to boot? 🙂

    This indeed is a step in the right direction for Saudi women. Perhaps many of them will not be so keen on coming west in future years.

    Best

    Jayne

  7. Hi Caterina. It is great news!! Thanks for sharing about it. Once women vote in SA things will never be the same again.
    Mike

  8. Glad you agree with me Pranay. Just wish you hadn't, like the majority of Western commentators, mentioned driving. Being able to vote and run in political elections is far more important than driving. Most people would actually prefer to have a chauffeaur. By the way, some of my female Saudi friends from the elite drive with almost black windows.

  9. it is wonderful news Catarina and I must admit i haven't heard any negative reports. What the west may forget is that there is still discrimination only it is not often talked about. Change takes time and Saudi will only be a better place when women have a say.

    What were the reasons why this hasn't been introduced earlier?
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  10. Wonderful news? Really? Who are they going to vote for? Is there any electoral choice or opposition? How are they going to get to the polls if they can't drive? This is a phony-balony PR move meant to look good but will have no real impact.

  11. This is amazing news! This will have positive repercussions globally since KSA is the beacon to the Muslim world. For the King to recognize the importance of bringing women to the discussion table is mind-blowing! It's only up from here….alhamdulillah!

  12. This is historic news in the Arab world and I applaud the King for recognizing women's right to vote. Not widely reported is that a Saudi woman, in defiance of the ban on women driving, recently drove her car, was arrested, and sentenced to be whipped. The king cancelled the whipping and as far back as 2007 he cancelled the 6-month's prison sentence of another woman for driving a car. So progress is slow but it's still progress.
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    1. Yes Jeannette King Abdullah is a reformer and as they say a good man. He has actually done more for the Middle East peace process than anyone else. However, it's not recognized for the simple reason that he is Saudi. He also negotiated an end to the Libanese civil war.

  13. Lou it's really interesting that so many Western men believe the most important thing is to drive. And the most amazing part about it is that many of them would love to have a driver.

  14. Catarina,

    this is indeed wonderful and amazing news! We can talk about how much further they have to go, but this is a historic moment and deserves celebration. One step at a time…

    Thank you for sharing this.

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