Monday, September 26, 2011

Saudi Arabia's Slow Progress On Women's Rights

There seems to be a pattern in which women's rights are granted in principle in Saudi Arabia but never in practice
By Nesrine Malik
Saudi women praying in Riyadh
King Abdullah's declaration that women will be allowed to vote and run as candidates in the next round of local elections in Saudi Arabia, in 2015, is being hailed as significant news. However, followers of Saudi politics will recall that similar assurances have been voiced before and not acted upon.
There have been strong objections to the ban and several Saudi intellectuals have called for a boycott of this month's polls in protest.
In the last elections, in 2005, practical considerations and the difficulty of preparing for women to take part at short notice were the official reasons given for the postponement of the decision. Elections scheduled for 2009 did not go ahead.
Officials have had six years to get ready but when the advisory Shura council recommended to the king this month that the ban be lifted it was too late to do so this year. It would seem that separate polling stations for men and women remained a problem.
This is something often seen in the Kingdom with regards to women's rights: a promise and an expression of goodwill scuppered due to bureaucracy. There is no law prohibiting women from driving, for example, but an administrative vacuum makes it impossible to get a driving licence or register to drive. "We are not ready" is the refrain often heard from those in authority.
This is the first time the king has made an overt promise regarding women's participation in politics, and it is encouraging that the issue is being discussed. But there remains a concern that the pattern will continue, in which women's rights appear to have been granted in principle but never in practice.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 25/09/2011
- Nesrine Malik is a Sudanese-born writer and commentator who lives in London

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