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Some progress is being made under King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia to give women more rights, especially in the political arena. The right to vote, which has historically been banned from women, was granted this past week to Saudi women. Along with the right to vote, the King also announced that women would be able to run for municipality council positions and serve on the Shura council, which is currently all male.
There have been other promises from King Abdullah that have not been carried out in previous years, such as in 1999 when he promised equal rights for all women. Since his entrance in 1995, the right to vote is one of the most dramatic changes the King has made thus far, and many hope it is just the beginning.
King Abdullah’s actions were influenced by religious motives and relating back to the role women played historically in Islamic culture and for the prophet Muhammad. He states, “Muslim women in our Islamic history have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice.
But it seems with every step forward that Saudi Arabia takes to progress towards a more equal society, there has recently also been a step in the wrong direction. Probably the biggest event of unequal rights occurring in Saudi Arabia is women not being able to drive and the recent arrest of Shayma Jastaniah.
Jastaniah was arrested for driving a car and sentenced to ten lashings as her punishment. Two other women are also to appear in court later in the year on charges for driving. They will have to pledge not to drive again to escape punishment. Backlash almost immediately arose from women’s rights groups throughout the world, viewing the punishment as a letdown for the country, especially after the announcement that women would have the right to hold political positions just days before.
“Saudi Women for Driving” was a petition launched and organized by Change.org and received more than 1,600 signatures when they heard about the lashings that were scheduled for Jastaniah. The same group also is starting a petition calling on King Abdullah to let women drive in Saudi Arabia.
Organizations across the world and within Saudi Arabia have put pressure on the government to cancel the lashings of Jastaniah and King Abdullah finally canceled the flogging. Many women’s rights groups were pleased with the decision and although it was a setback to progress in women rights in country, there was a sigh of relief.
Even though the introduction of a few rights to women is a monumental step in Saudi Arabia, there is a long way to go in giving women complete equality with men. The election will not take place until 2015 and there is hope that these steps taken by King Abdullah are just the beginning of change for women to gain more rights in Saudi Arabia.
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