King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has decided that women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to vote and run for office in future municipal elections, CNN reports. The king announced the historic change in a five-minute speech on Saudi state television on Sunday.
“Since we reject to marginalize the role of women in the Saudi society, in every field of works, according to the (Islamic) Sharia guidelines, and after consultations with many of our scholars, especially those in the senior scholars council, and others, who have expressed the preference for this orientation, and supported this trend, we have decided the following," the king said, according to an English translation of his remarks released by the Saudi government.
First, he said, women will be allowed to participate in the Shura council, the Consultative Council appointed by the king, CNN reports.
Women are not allowed to vote in the municipal elections Saudi Arabia is on Sept. 29, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. However, the king said, "as of the next session, women will have the right to nominate themselves for membership of Municipal Councils, and also have the right to participate in the nomination of candidates with the Islamic guidelines."
It is unclear when the next set of elections will take place, CNN reports. Thursday’s municipal elections are only the second time in 50 years Saudis have gone to the polls.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek:
Saudi Arabia enforces gender restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Men and women are strictly segregated in public, including at schools, restaurants and lines at fast-food takeouts. That keeps women out of sales jobs in malls and stores, unless the outlet caters exclusively to a female clientele.
Abdullah, who was born in 1924, has promised to improve the status of women and opened the first co-educational university in 2009. He appointed the kingdom’s first female deputy minister, Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, the same year and has said he will provide more access to jobs for women. Women are still not allowed to drive.
"This is great news," said Wajeha al-Huwaider, a Saudi writer and women's rights activist, Reuters reports. "Women's voices will finally be heard.”