For the first time, women will be represented on Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council. King Abdullah has appointed 30 women to the national advisory body, a landmark victory for women’s rights in the Middle Eastern country. A pair of decrees from the King Friday specified that the women selected will serve a four-year term, and that women should continue to represent at least 20 percent of the council’s 150 seats.
“The decision is good but women issues are still hanging,” female activist Wajeha al-Hawidar told USA Today. “For normal women, there are so many laws and measures that must be suspended or amended for women to be dealt with as grown-ups and adults, without a mandate from guardians.”
“Men can finally respect women when they see them playing a male role,” she added.
King Abdullah hinted at the decrees in 2011, and had also said he would create opportunities for women to vote and run as candidates in the 2015 elections. The Saudi Press Agency reported both decrees, one of which amended the council’s statute to guarantee women representation. The other named the council’s members, including the women.
Previously, women were only able to serve as advisers to the council. Female council members will be held to “Islamic Shariah disciplines without any violations” and “restrained by the religious veil,” according to the king’s decision, and will use separate entrances, seats and facilities within the council building.
Abiding by Saudi Wahhabism, council members will be segregated in the building as well, and will communicate through screens and specific communications networks. Saudi Arabia traditionally condemns relationships between men and women who are unmarried or unrelated. Even homes are segregated, featuring separate living rooms for men and women.
It remains to be seen how effective the women can be under conservative pressure and restrictions presented by the segregation. In his decree, King Abdullah said that the women “will enjoy full rights of membership, be committed to their duties, responsibilities and assume their jobs.”