Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly known for being a progressive country. Women in the nation still aren’t permitted to drive or leave home without the approval of a male guardian and they make up a mere 13% of the country’s native workforce. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia is ranked 130 out of 142 on the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap report, which measures the access women have versus men to healthcare, education, economic participation, and political empowerment. Not great.
But it looks as if the country is about to make a significant leap in the rankings as, starting this December, Saudi women are finally granted the right to vote in national elections and run for office in local, municipal elections. The implementation of this new law has actually been in the works for four years, following a decree by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud that paved the way.
So far, 70 women are planning to register to run for office while another 80 have signed up as campaign managers. If successfully elected to municipal offices, these women will take part in setting taxes, preparing and approving budgets, overseeing development projects, and making other financial and infrastructural decisions. Still, as Time points out, municipal councils have very little sway on national policies and this is only a small, albeit positive step toward true gender equality in Saudi Arabia.
In a statement released by Amnesty International back in 2011 when the decision was made, they said: “We can only hope that this announcement on voting will be the first in a long line of reforms that guarantee Saudi women the rights that they have been demanding for so long.” As do we.
Voter registration will begin tomorrow, August 22, while candidate registration begins on Sunday, August 30.
[Images via Twitter]