Saudi Women To Vote--In 2015--But Still Can't Drive To Polls

September 26, 2011

Four years from now, the women of Saudi Arabia will be able to vote, which they have not so far been permitted to do.

They remain, however, religiously forbidden from driving cars--the only such law anywhere in the world.

That means they will have to rely on male relatives to drive them to the polls.

Voting, four years from now

Yesterday, King Abdullah announced that women would be granted the right to vote, starting in 2015, as well as being permitted to run for office. Women will not be able to do either, however, in local elections to be held this week.

The king also that women will also be appointed to the Shura Council, which offers advice on social policies and debates the terms of economic agreements and treaties between Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Some political analysts suggest the move is an attempt to insulate the highly conservative nation from unrest inspired by "Arab Spring" movements that have challenged or overthrown dictatorial governments in other countries.

Long history of protests

The ban on driving for Saudi women has frequently been in the news this year, with small protests inside the kingdom and demonstrations to support the protesters in other countries.

In June, a few dozen Saudi women drove in a long-awaited day of protest that was promoted via social media. A few days before, meanwhile, their supporters circled the Saudi embassy in their cars outside Washington, D.C.

Stop Subaru in Saudi Facebook Ad

Stop Subaru in Saudi Facebook Ad

U.S. supporters of Saudi women's right to drive have also targeted Subaru, promoting an online petition asking the Japanese company to stop selling cars in the country. As of today, that petition had received more than 85,000 signatures.

The small automaker, which sells fewer than 500 cars a year in Saudi Arabia, was picked because it advertises heavily to women in some markets.

Womens' rights "touchy"

As The Washington Post notes, "The question of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is a touchy one."

Because the country has "no social or political force ... strong enough to affect change in women’s rights," it is left to the king to do so--and even he must achieve a consensus with religious leaders before making any change to the social order.

The change indicates the glacial pace of social change in the religiously-dominated Saudi society.

As the Post story says, "Saudi women bear the brunt of their nation’s deeply conservative values" and are routinely harassed by religious police for perceived violations of Shariah law in public places.

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