One hundred and twenty-two years ago, New Zealand became the first country in the world to allow all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Nighty-five years ago, suffragists in the United States won the right to vote in the Presidential elections. Eighty-seven years ago, the right to vote in the United Kingdom was extended from women over thirty to all women above the age of twenty-one. Twenty-one years ago in South Africa, all women regardless of their skin colour achieved the right to vote for the National Assembly. This December, Saudi Arabia will finally allow women to vote and run in the 2015 local elections.
In 2011, the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud declared that in 2015 women could participate in local elections. Allowing Saudi women the opportunity to have their voices heard is an unprecedented step forward in improving gender equality in the country. Saudi Arabia is currently ranked 130th out of 142 countries in the Gender Equality Index, meaning it has one of the largest gender gaps in the world. This is evident; as despite the right to vote being a huge advancement for women; most must get permission from a male relative to leave their homes to register for the elections. This is a reflection of women’s place in Saudi society, as they are not seen as independent, but rather always ‘behind’ men. Ultimately all decision-making power lies in the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers or sons, thus many will not be permitted to vote.
For the role of Saudi women to truly change, the government needs to look at a lot more than just voting rights. Some people doubt that the move will bring any real change to a country where the actions of women are heavily restricted. The male guardianship system prevents them from doing things such as acquiring a passport, travelling alone, going to university or even marrying without a man’s permission. Yet with an estimated 70 women hoping to run as candidates, it is evident that the decision to allow women to vote reflects an increasingly broader view among the people of Saudi Arabia regarding women’s rights.
It is important to remember that though gender equality in Saudi Arabia is nowhere near where it should be, the right to vote indicates a change coming for Saudi women. Many suffragettes of Saudi Arabia are demanding more change, but they are also pragmatic and appreciative of how far they have come. Perhaps it will take many, many years for women to have the same rights and respect as men in Saudi Arabia and perhaps it will take numerous challenging battles to reach this goal, but as Maya Angelou once said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” And it is with this positive attitude that many of the Saudi women approach the upcoming elections and the future for women’s rights.
Main image Source: http://girltalkhq.com/for-the-first-time-in-history-women-in-saudi-arabia-are-registering-to-vote/
By Heather (DP1)