This was written by Maha Akeel and was originally published in Common Ground News Service.
“Saudi Arabia is not yet ready for women to participate in the upcoming municipal elections on 23 April.” The election commissioner made this bold statement late last month, referring to women’s roles as both voters and candidates. Two years earlier, however, the first female deputy minister was appointed, and in 2005 officials from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs promised that women would be able to participate in the 2011 elections.
This type of “one step forward, two steps back” behavior means that Saudi women are still being denied their full rights as citizens. There are important currents of change and signs of hope for improved women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, however, reform driven by economic necessity and legislative change is not enough. Saudi Arabia requires a shift in the way people think about women.
The announcement by the Saudi king two years ago that reforms – such as codifying and standardizing laws, establishing family courts and giving female lawyers the right to represent female clients – would be implemented in the justice system is encouraging. With the current lack of transparency and public discussion, however, we don’t know who is implementing these reforms and what exactly is being reformed.