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But can I drive to the voting booth?
September 25, 2011 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Women in Saudi Arabia to vote and run in elections: Women in Saudi Arabia are to be given the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, King Abdullah has announced.

In A Land Of Few Rights, Saudi Women Fight To Vote (April 2011)

Earlier FPP on women's rights in Saudi Arabia

UN call for Saudi women's rights (2008)
posted by infini (53 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow! Good job fighting for that.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:03 AM on September 25, 2011


The bad news: nobody will drive them to the polling station.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:04 AM on September 25, 2011 [23 favorites]


This will ultimately be a good thing.

In before the cynics.
posted by jabberjaw at 7:04 AM on September 25, 2011 [5 favorites]



The bad news: nobody will drive them to the polling station.

This isn't even a joke. My mom doesn't drive and one year Dad refused to drive her simply because they were voting for opposing parties. (She went with a neighbour)
posted by infini at 7:11 AM on September 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


I assume this will be shortly followed by a fatwa proclaiming it a sin to vote any way other that how your husband, father, or (you poor girl) brother tells you to.

That said... progress is progress. And this is an important step.
posted by pts at 7:23 AM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well done and hooray for the start of things to come. Nothing comes easily.
posted by h00py at 7:36 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a good thing, step by incremental step.
posted by arcticseal at 7:38 AM on September 25, 2011


This isn't even a joke. My mom doesn't drive and one year Dad refused to drive her simply because they were voting for opposing parties. (She went with a neighbour)

In Saudi Arabia it's actually illegal for women to drive.

Anyway, even if there are municipal elections, Saudi Arabia is still an authoritarian, theocratic dictatorship monarchy. It's not like the votes are going to matter.
posted by delmoi at 7:40 AM on September 25, 2011


Playing some Destiny's Child in honor of the Saudi Arabian women. Every step towards full emancipation is an important step.
posted by bpm140 at 7:40 AM on September 25, 2011


This is a good start. But apparently some women in Saudi Arabia have risked fines and worse, and started driving.
posted by Flashman at 7:41 AM on September 25, 2011


Amazingly good news. But when will this take effect? Will it be in time for this coming Thursday's elections, or will they have to wait for the next elections in 2015?
posted by easily confused at 7:52 AM on September 25, 2011


A general rule of thumb suggests that the more equal in all things that women are in a society the more that society resembles a true democracy.
posted by Postroad at 7:57 AM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


easily confused - the article says "The changes will occur after municipal polls on Thursday, the king said." So, wait until 2015 :(
posted by symbioid at 7:58 AM on September 25, 2011


In Saudi Arabia it's actually illegal for women to drive.

No way.... !!!
posted by infini at 7:58 AM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


The right to vote...for who'll be King?
posted by jonmc at 8:07 AM on September 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Progress is slow and fraught with all kinds of obstacles, but yes, this is a step in the right direction.

So, wait until 2015 :(

Maybe he'll legalize women driving by then? Maybe Saudi women will start their own women-only taxi services like they have in Cairo and Tehran?

trying to keep the hope above my default cynicism
posted by smirkette at 8:08 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is amazingly good news - if it comes to pass. I recently had lunch with a woman who lived in Saudi Arabia as a teacher. She was there with her son who was about 9 or 10. While in Saudi Arabia, he was her legal guardian. She was not allowed to go anywhere without him. He could in theory (perhaps in practice?) have had her confined or punished. He was a nice kid, but the idea of him having that power was seriously creepy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:28 AM on September 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I see it as a good thing, despite my cynicism.

It's true that voting in Saudi Arabia doesn't, currently, affect much but in the West voting didn't start out affecting much either. Monarchies tend to shrink over time, even mostly symbolic elected officials eventually start getting increased power.

Besides, giving women increased power, even when it's mostly symbolic, should help the social situation.

Much like Obama's election in the USA, I think the main benefit of giving women the right to vote in Saudi is symbolic. In Obama's case the main positive result will be simply that the country didn't implode or collapse, that takes a lot of wind out of the sails of racism. The same will apply in Saudi Arabia, women will get to vote and the universe won't collapse and that'll take a lot of the wind out of the sails of misogyny there.
posted by sotonohito at 8:31 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now all we need is for women to be allowed out of the house.
posted by dougrayrankin at 9:58 AM on September 25, 2011


I am for this kind of thing. Also for women driving, hurra! Met a woman once who was a truck driver and driving instructor from Dubai. She was also a swimming teacher, and cool as beans.
Used to be a blog, I thought it was called "smoking and driving", by a young saudi woman who liked to sneak off for big long drives and have a smoke, and was blogging about the best off-the-beaten-path roads for such things. Ring a bell with anyone?
posted by Iteki at 10:47 AM on September 25, 2011


giving women the right to vote in Saudi is symbolic.

Obviously. When the Head of Government is called Your Royal Highness all voting is symbolic.

and that'll take a lot of the wind out of the sails of misogyny there.

Perhaps, but it seems more intended to take the wind out of the sails of foreign criticism. So some small admission of guilt maybe?
posted by three blind mice at 11:02 AM on September 25, 2011


Perhaps, but it seems more intended to take the wind out of the sails of foreign criticism. So some small admission of guilt maybe?

So how many hundreds of years ago, did this all the states in this great american society allow women to vote and gave a small admission of guilt?
posted by hal_c_on at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


@three blind mice I believe I mentioned all voting in Saudi being largely symbolic.

The thing is that in the modern world all voting everywhere except the USA started out being pretty much symbolic. British Parliament was originally an almost completely powerless advisory body for the king. It grew.

Symbols have a way of doing that.

Personally I'd prefer the vile dictators running Saudi to peacefully turn over all power in a move that establishes a nice liberal democracy with a strong constitution protecting civil rights and voting for all. I think, however, that's rather unlikely.

And I'm iffy, at best, on hoping for the sort of violent revolution that would be required to oust them. The revolutionaries would almost certainly be Islamist radicals, not my idea of a real improvement. More important revolutions have a really low rate of success for actually improving matters significantly. Revolutionary leaders are often quite good at leading revolutions; they're mostly no good at all at leading nations and generally don't want to relinquish power once the revolution has succeeded.

Take Cuba for example. The Batista regime was an absolutely wretched dictatorship under which the average Cuban suffered mightily. Unfortunately following the successful and fully justified revolution by Castro the resulting Castro regime was an absolutely wretched dictatorship under which the average Cuban suffered mightily.

Revolutions, much as they might be justified, tend not to pan out in terms of establishing worthwhile governments. So I'll cheer symbolic victories in Saudi, those take a long time to change much, but when they do they often bring lasting and significant improvements.
posted by sotonohito at 11:13 AM on September 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


it feels like 1920 all over again.
posted by clavdivs at 11:29 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh No! Prohibition!
posted by jonmc at 11:30 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hopefully, by 2015, King Abdullah and his family will be out of a job, and women will have had the vote for a few years already.
posted by grounded at 1:26 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I assume this will be shortly followed by a fatwa proclaiming it a sin to vote any way other that how your husband, father, or (you poor girl) brother tells you to.

Interesting assumption. Could you provide some more information about fatwas in Saudi Arabia to support it?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:28 PM on September 25, 2011


Islamic clerics across the world, not just in KSA, have a history of issuing fatwas on all manner of issues. Here are two from KSA:

Saudi Arabian clerics issue fatwa ruling that women cannot work as supermarket cashiers

Saudi Arabia: Cleric issues fatwa against journalists and writers

I think it is safe to guess that there could be fatwas against women's right to vote - if not explicitly (because the King probably has got some religious explanation to go with his decision) then implicitly (like voting the way your husband/father tells you etc.).
posted by vidur at 1:38 PM on September 25, 2011


Wait?!

Women haven't had the vote in Saudi Arabia??

I mean, I knew they couldn't drive, but they couldn't even fucking VOTE?!


Shhiiiiii-iiiiite!!!
posted by Skygazer at 3:26 PM on September 25, 2011


the resulting Castro regime was an absolutely wretched dictatorship under which the average Cuban suffered mightily.

I think any half-assed revolution could've taken Batista out if it wanted to, and Castro definitely did some fucked up things to the wonderful culture of Cuba, but one thing is did provide was an incredible educational system with literacy rates upward of 97% and also establish a nationalized medical structure that's first class.

Just giving credit where it's due...
posted by Skygazer at 3:31 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia: "Wow, this is amazingly good news - if it comes to pass. I recently had lunch with a woman who lived in Saudi Arabia as a teacher. She was there with her son who was about 9 or 10. While in Saudi Arabia, he was her legal guardian. She was not allowed to go anywhere without him. He could in theory (perhaps in practice?) have had her confined or punished. He was a nice kid, but the idea of him having that power was seriously creepy"

Wow. I wonder when they were there. When I was growing up we lived in Saudi Arabia for three years and that wasn't the case at all. My mom would have a driver take her to the souq and then go do shopping on her own. In fact, she didn't have to do the full head-to-toe cover up, just cover her arms and ankles, and it wasn't a problem at all.

Astonishing to think that the place may have gone even more regressive in the last few years ...
posted by barnacles at 3:35 PM on September 25, 2011


barnacles: Wow. I wonder when they were there. When I was growing up we lived in Saudi Arabia for three years and that wasn't the case at all. My mom would have a driver take her to the souq and then go do shopping on her own. In fact, she didn't have to do the full head-to-toe cover up, just cover her arms and ankles, and it wasn't a problem at all.

Astonishing to think that the place may have gone even more regressive in the last few years ...


It may have as much to do with where as when. I've never been to Saudi Arabia, but I imagine that it's similar to many other Middle Eastern countries in that the social norms can vary a lot depending on where in the country you are--i.e., it's fairly normal in larger, wealthier, more cosmopolitan cities to see women walking around in Western clothes + a headscarf and the chaperone rules are a bit more relaxed, but out in the more rural and conservative parts of the country, things can be a lot more restrictive.
posted by kagredon at 3:56 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Barnacles: I don't know whether she could go shopping by herself but I think she could. I meant that he had to accompany her when she travelled between cities in Saudi Arabia, or on excursions to the desert.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:09 PM on September 25, 2011


The only reason they did this was because they're trying to pre-emptively diffuse the shit-show next door in Bahrain from spreading. And when I say shit-show, I mean total, utter clusterfuck (30 min. special report… well work every second of it).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:25 PM on September 25, 2011


Shhiiiiii-iiiiite!!!

No, Suuuuu-uuuuunni.
posted by randomname25 at 5:56 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


(The above comment was not intended to imply that Sunnis at large are to blame for the lack of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.)
posted by randomname25 at 5:56 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Saudi women to vote ...... in meaningless elections. Still, the Saudi King's announcement today is a symbolic opening of more space for women in the Kingdom.
posted by homunculus at 9:44 PM on September 25, 2011


The only reason they did this was because they're trying to pre-emptively diffuse the shit-show next door yt in Bahrain from spreading.

Speaking of which: US Resumes Arms Sales to Bahrain
posted by homunculus at 9:46 PM on September 25, 2011


I haven't read all the articles, but I was very excited when I saw the news break last night. I was sitting in a task force meeting with a group of students and faculty discussing a future goal for the University, or I would have stood up and announced it, like a messenger bringing news of a victory from the front lines. I was content to send a text message to let my wife know, aware that while the right to vote is ultimately not very meaningful (I asked an educated 21-year old Saudi this weekend what his elected local councilmen do, and he had no idea), it is a very important symbolic gesture.

Saudi is such an interesting country, and it's hard to predict or understand what will happen here over the next few years. I expected to encounter a massively inefficient, corrupt, bureaucracy, full of a very conservative older population and a more liberal younger population like Egypt. Instead, although the government is inefficient and it is clear there is some corruption (and Royalty can do almost anything they want), I find that overall the standards here are much higher than the rest of the Middle East. ARAMCO is run like the Marines; there's a highly regimented command structure with clear lines of promotion, a huge layer of bureaucracy to defend against waste and corruption, and unbelievable pride, loyalty, and discipline from the 'troops'.

There is a clear desire from many of the educated Saudis we encounter to "liberate" the country. It's hard to choose a good word, because there is a fear that Westernization is a corrupting influence, a fear I agree with a little more every time I step into one of their luxury-focused megamalls, and the country has already been modernized in so many ways. There is an incredible level of pushback at some of what Americans would consider the most fundamental rights and dignities. Women and men everywhere outside of KAUST (where I work) attend lectures and classes in divided lecture halls at best and in completely separate schools and Universities in the most common case. Saudi women are expected to always wear an abaya and cover their hair, with several tragic examples still prominent in our minds here of cases when women have died or been seriously injured because they were unable to remove their abayas in a public setting.

I like to think of the KAUST as at the front lines of Saudi's transformation. The University has intentionally downplayed itself in the local spotlight, allowing almost no press inside in an effort to keep its profile low in a country known for its fringe elements hateful of the West and capable of vicious resistance to change. But almost every Saudi I meet who visits the campus is impressed by the respectful, multicultural atmosphere that the administration spends vast (and sometimes misguided) effort promoting. I won't say that it is easy, or that we've got it perfect, but it seems to work for us. Last night while eating a shawarma in Discovery Square, some visiting Saudi ARAMCOns who had just arrived on campus asked me how I felt about KAUST. When I replied that I believe it is a model for the future of Saudi Arabia, they smiled and added, hopefully, "Insha'Allah."
posted by onalark at 10:33 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


How will I vote for them based on attractiveness if I can't see what they look like?
posted by XhaustedProphet at 10:55 PM on September 25, 2011


with several tragic examples still prominent in our minds here of cases when women have died or been seriously injured because they were unable to remove their abayas in a public setting.

Can you tell us a little more about this, please? I'm curious how this may have happened?
posted by infini at 11:04 PM on September 25, 2011


I have to admit, my first reaction was cynicism. But the more I thought about it, the happier I was.

The municipal councils ARE largely symbolic and half of them would still be appointed. But, while the councils' influence is limited now, that is already changing. After floods killed hundreds of people in Jeddah, people went to their council to ask why the drainage and sewer systems were so decrepit. The councils had to answer for the failure of the Saudi government to protect its citizens. In some cases, they had nothing to say for themselves, and the king came down and fired many of them. Still Saudis are expecting more from their leaders. A council can’t stay symbolic forever if they have real responsibilities to attend to.

The change is scheduled for several years in the future which gives plenty of opportunity for push back and reversals. When you live in the middle east, you get used to being told ‘bokra inshallah’ – tomorrow, god willing – when you ask when your visa will be processed, your shipment will arrive, your bike will be fixed, etc. When you get that answer for a week or two straight, you start to realize that it means ‘never, but I don’t want to tell you that.’ After the last election, there were rumors that women would be able to vote in this one. A few months ago, it came out that they weren’t ready this time (they cited logistical reasons), but maybe next time – bokra, inshallah. But the King doesn’t have to bokra inshallah anyone. He’s the King. When he says that a university is going to be built in two years, the buildings rise out of the sand. If he says that women are voting in the next election, it’ll happen.

He also threw in the right to be appointed to the Shura Council, the body that actually advises the king. That promise isn’t on a delayed time schedule; he could appoint someone tomorrow. I hope that he does.

I would also say that on many issues, the king is more liberal than many Saudi people. Most westerners have this idea that full democracy (by that I mean that all positions would be up for election) automatically leads to a more open society. In Saudi, the fear is that full democracy would cut off all advances as people voted for religious extremists and ultra-conservatives.

Anyway, I’m hopeful. Women will be allowed to vote in the third set of modern elections held in Saudi.
posted by oryelle at 11:07 PM on September 25, 2011


infini: the 2002 Mecca girl's school fire is probably the most prominent incident, I have heard of several other cases where an abaya was caught in an escalator and the first reaction was to go find another abaya to cover the trapped woman instead of simply shedding the garment.
posted by onalark at 11:45 PM on September 25, 2011


Meh! The tradeoff between dignity/humiliation and death. I wonder how much also it has to do with the women's internalization of the habit (Yes, I'm speaking as a woman and a south asian)? Just as an example, I can never ever bear to wear a bikini on a beach simply because I never have (along with all the attendant issues of 'modesty' and 'shame').

If I'd grown up behind purdah, I wonder what would be worse for me and would I be able to do any different?
posted by infini at 12:32 AM on September 26, 2011


Both men and women have internalized the standards of the society. Many women (though of course, not all) are uncomfortable in the presence of unrelated men, and it would be unthinkable for then to be without their abaya, even if they were fully covered according to Muslim law (only feet, hands and face showing). Saudi women know that the face veil is not mandated by Islam, but some say that they feel safer wearing it. This perception is reinforced when they go out on the streets and men stare, catcall, and follow them. (I know that the topic of street harassment has been discussed a lot on Metafilter). Many men in Saudi, many of them migrant workers, don't have any shame about staring.

One women said that a man came up and tried to flirt with her in the mall which made her very uncomfortable. She was fully covered and veiled at the time. My thought was, well clearly it doesn't matter what your wearing; they'll flirt with you either way. Her thought was, think of what he would have done if I wasn't veiled!

I just included a lot of generalizations and stereotypes up there, so I have to add that Saudi Arabia is a country of millions of people and both men and women hold a wide range of opinions on religion, society, westerners, etc.
posted by oryelle at 1:15 AM on September 26, 2011


What has always driven me crazy about Saudi Arabia's restrictions on a woman's freedom is that if these restrictions were placed on a group of people based on the color of their skin, the U.S. would have imposed all sorts of sanctions on the country. But it's ok when it's just women who are marginalized, downtrodden, discriminated, repressed (pick your adjective). Crap. Just complete utter crap.
posted by Kokopuff at 7:37 AM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Saudi woman facing trial for driving: Najalaa Harrir, one of the Saudi activists behind the "My Right, My Dignity" campaign trying to end discrimination against women, will be brought to trial for violating Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers, the Associated Press reports.
posted by homunculus at 12:06 PM on September 26, 2011


It's interesting to me that in Saudi Arabia the social climate is such that the theocrats can explicitly argue that women shouldn't be permitted to drive because giving women too much freedom would be bad.

They apparently don't feel the need that the would be theocrats in other places do and therefore they don't try and dress up their misogyny in pseudo-science, or to disguise it in any way at all. Women, so they argue, should be kept as virtual slaves so therefore women should be prohibited from driving, nice and simple.

In a way it's refreshing to see the argument so clearly laid out and without any of the typical attempts to hide the contempt for women that in the USA proponents of forced birth and other regressive and misogynist policies try to use. In another way it's horribly depressing because it shows that over there the theocrats and misogynists don't have to even pretend to hide their real views....

I'm seeing parallels to the way racism was explicit and open in the USA prior to and immediately after the Civil Rights act. Politicians would stand up before cheering crowds and declare that black people were inherently inferior and therefore it was right and proper for them to be subjected to repressive legal policies. Later they had to try to hide it.

I'll also note that if Saudi Arabia treated any ethnic group the way they treat women, substitute "black" and "white" for "women" and "men" for example, they'd be subject to international sanctions. But since it's only women being oppressed and treated like sub-human vermin no sanctions are even proposed, much less enacted.
posted by sotonohito at 7:19 AM on September 27, 2011


All the King's Women: A royal decree allowing women the right to vote can't hide the decay in the House of Saud.
posted by homunculus at 10:01 AM on September 27, 2011


A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for breaking the country's ban on female drivers.
posted by Anything at 10:35 AM on September 27, 2011


BBC says today that the King revoked her lashing.
posted by arcticseal at 4:50 PM on September 28, 2011


The only reason they did this was because they're trying to pre-emptively diffuse the shit-show next door yt in Bahrain from spreading.

Bahrain medical staff sentenced over protests: Thirteen doctors and nurses who treated anti-government protesters given 15-year jail terms for crimes against state.
posted by homunculus at 10:53 AM on September 29, 2011


Vote or drive? Saudi women would rather be behind the wheel
posted by homunculus at 12:45 PM on October 6, 2011


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