Campus, International, News, Politics

Saudi Arabia making slow progress in womens’ rights, students say

After King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that he would allow women to vote and run for municipal elections in the 2015 elections, Boston University community members said that while the decision marks a step forward for Saudi women, they are worried it does not indicate significant progress.

“How can they vote when is most of them don’t even have ID cards yet? And how can they be a member of council if they wouldn’t be able to drive themselves to work?” said College of Arts and Science senior Oriana Zoghbi, who lived in Ridyadh, Saudi Arabia from 1990 until 2006.

The White House website released a statement by National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor supporting of Abdullah’s decision. “We welcome Saudi King Abdullah’s announcement today that women will serve as full members of the Shoura Council in the next session, and will have the right to participate in future elections,” Vietor said.

In response to the White House statement, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia wrote on its website that the announcement has received “praise from governments around the world.”

“I think that it’s long overdue but of course, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Carrie Preston, assistant professor of English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at BU.

Abdullah has been considered a  reformer since he came to power six years ago, according to a Sept. 26 Associated Press report. He established the nation’s first co-educational university, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, in 2009.

While suffrage may mark a step forward, Zoghbi said that women will still face obstacles because they are barred from certain rights, such as the right to drive.

“On the one hand I think it is great that Saudi is finally addressing the issue of women,” Zoghbi said in an email interview. “It has been a struggle and disaster for years and even if this isn’t a huge change, it’s something. On the other hand, I have to wait to and see what will happen in the next few years to better judge the situation.

“It also depends a lot on how [their votes] will be treated. If they are respected in the council and their voices are heard, then again yes, I do think it could make a difference. It is just very hard to tell right now how things will play out.”

CAS junior Kareem Chehayeb said she thinks the announcement will likely lead to more pressure on the Saudi government.

“The women who were discouraged in the past are going to be more inspired to take action and to get rid of the other misogynistic laws,” Chehayeb said.

“I also have a sense that it’s an attempt at deferral at creating significant and lasting change,” Preston said. “I don’t think the king will be effective in deferring women’s demands and I think they’ll keep pushing. I hope they do.”

“I just hope he follows through and that the next king can follow in his steps and continue developing the country for women,” Zoghbi said “More than anything, I think this has empowered women to feel worthwhile. In a country where a woman cannot even show [her] face on the street, being able to vote and be a member in a council is huge.

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One Comment

  1. Hi FREEP. Thanks for including me in this article…but I’m a guy.


    -Kareem Chehayeb