History was recently made in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For the first time in the nation’s history, women were allowed to register to vote. The move was initiated by the late King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, who put the plans into action back in 2011.
This new decree would ensure that women would not only be allowed to register to vote, they would also be allowed to participate in municipal elections. Prior to this, as far back as the 1950s and 1960s, women were forbidden from doing all three.
One of the major reasons female voting participation was forbidden was due to gender segregation, a practice that has been ingratiated in the culture for decades. Up until 2008, women were not allowed to be a part of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the city of Jeddah. That year, two women were elected to the board.
While women have not been allowed to participate in elections, they have been voted to various positions within the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, the governing body that serves the monarchy of Saudi Arabia. Thirty seats on the council were granted to women in 2013; a small margin considering the size of the predominantly male governing body.
The suffrage movement in Saudi Arabia has been a major topic of discussion in recent years, invoking strong reactions on both sides of the spectrum. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world to still have a gender-specific ban on political suffrage in the 21st century.
This is why the country’s decision to allow women to vote is seen as a forward-thinking move.
“Female suffrage is inextricable from socio-economic advancement and development in Saudi Arabia. As long as women are marginalized, regardless of the state, said state will never reach its full potential,” senior Political Science major Joshua Drumming said.
It’s an opinion that much of the world shares. Many Western countries, the United States in particular, have attempted diplomatic means to convince Saudi Arabia of the necessity of gender-inclusive elections.
The question then becomes, why is the change happening now? It is possible that decades of pressure from other countries have led to Saudi Arabia’s change in perspective, but the step forward does come with a few stipulations.
Voting is not open to all women. In fact, a woman is only eligible to register to vote and participate if she follows the restrictions which include wearing the traditional wrap which covers one’s hair and mouth.
Additionally, the elections tend to center around the whim of the king of Saudi Arabia, who chooses his own government cabinet. Then, is this really a victory? Saudi Arabia is one of many countries whose voter turnout could possibly be determined by the issues being voted on.
Instances of gender inequality are just one of the many things facing the world that students in the AUC will face. Our voting rights are in danger of being infringed upon. With the turn of an election, much like the one that will take place in Saudi Arabia in December, we could easily enter into a society that will plunge us back into a world where one is kept from voting based on something as simple as gender or skin color.
It then becomes our responsibility to see to it that we do not take a similar step backwards. In order to prevent actions against our own voting rights, and continued progress, like what was seen in Saudi Arabia, the people must breed the next group of political leaders. The millennials have need to take an active role in our government.
World and Local Staff Writer