January 11, 2013, New York Times
Women are not allowed to drive and cannot yet vote in Saudi Arabia, but on [January 11] they were given a voice in an advisory council that debates the kingdom’s legislation. The Saudi king, Abdullah, issued a decree that for the first time gave women seats on the Shura council, an assembly whose members are appointed to discuss laws and other issues and advise the king, but that has no legislative power. The decree … gave women 30 of the 150 seats on the council with all the duties of their male counterparts. The decision was met with a mixture of optimism that the country was inching forward with reforms and skepticism from activists who are pushing for greater freedom for women in the conservative kingdom, one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies. In a decree in 2011, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections scheduled for 2015, the biggest change in a decade for women in the puritanical kingdom. He also promised to name women to the Shura council at that time. But Saudi women still cannot make ordinary decisions, like marrying or traveling abroad, without written permission from a legal male guardian, “effectively treating her as a minor all her life,” [a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia, Manal al-Sharif,] wrote in a separate statement on the Web site of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. Women also continued to be arrested for driving. In one case in 2011, a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for violating the ban. The king later revoked the sentence.
Note: Why is there so little national or international pressure on Saudi Arabia to promote gender equality, or democracy for that matter? Could it be that their huge wealth buys sways the political will of nations around the world? How sad.