Riyadh: A new era of women’s freedom has kicked off in the conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as women are gradually getting prominent place in the society and in a new phase, all-male Saudi Shura Councilhas welcomed 30 women on the orders of King Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has appointed 30 women to the previously all-male consultative Shura Council which is yet another step towards recognition of women’s role in the kingdom.
Two decrees reconstituted the council, which advises the government on new legislation, for a new four-year term and stated that women should always hold at least a fifth of its 150 seats.
The king took the decisions following consultations with religious leaders.
The council has had female “advisers,” but women still have little role in public life in the conservative state.
King Abdullah first announced that he was planning to name women to the Shura Council in 2011, when he also said that they would be allowed to vote and stand as candidates in the 2015 municipal elections.
One of the royal decrees published on Friday by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) amended an article in the Shura Council’s statute to guarantee women representation on the body, while the other named the 150 members, among them 30 women.
The council can advise the king and question ministers, but it has no power to make or veto legislation and its members are appointed by the king.
Special gates are being installed in the Shura Council building so that women can enter and leave by a different entrance from the men. There will be a separate seating area for them and an earlier announcement spoke of screens and internal communications to prevent any mingling of male and female.
The king informed that he had consulted religious scholars, who approved the participation of women in accordance with the Shariah law.
King stated, “Women... will enjoy full rights of membership, be committed to their duties, responsibilities and assume their jobs.”
The first decree also stated that special seating would be allocated for women inside the Shura Council building, and that a special entrance and exit would be built to ensure segregation of male and female members.
Two of the women appointed are princesses. One is the daughter of the late King Faisal and the other is the daughter of late King Khaled.
The council will also have four Shiite members, one of whom is a woman. This represents an increase of one seat for the minority community, which makes up about 10 percent of the population.
Jeddah-based journalist Maha Akeel described the announcement as “a very big step forward.”
She said that the women on the Shura Council would be “under pressure from conservative elements” within the kingdom, but she is confident they would be more than able to defend themselves.
“These women will bring fresh energy and insights to the council. Their participation will open doors for women,” she added.