On September 25, 2011, King Abdullah announced to Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that women would finally be able to vote in the municipal elections in 2015. Additionally, these women were given the right to run for office in those municipal elections and “to be appointed as full voting members of the Majlis Al-Shura, a government advisory group.” But, how can this country grant women a right to vote and to run for office but not to drive a car?
While US women drive their car to work, Saudi women are prohibited from driving regardless of where they are headed. Although this ban is not legal in nature, it is a socially enforced law, which stems from Muslim tradition and religion. Deeply rooted in this tradition is the belief that granting women freedom will inevitably lead to their vulnerability to sin. Therefore, policemen pull over women who are driving a car to question them and force them to sign a pledge to not drive again. While the courts have not passed down an official enforcement of this social enforced law, recently upon the release of the news that women have gained a right to vote, the court sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for driving. Yet, King Abdullah overturned this punishment.
Not only are women not “allowed” to drive, but also they must wear a burka. As mentioned in an earlier post, Muslim women were banned in France from wearing their burka while women in Saudi Arabia must do the exact opposite. Additionally, Saudi women are required to have a male guardian with them. Further, women are prevented from working, owning property or opening a bank account without permission from their husband or father. Women cannot even play sports in public. In fact, Saudi Arabia remains one of three counties that has not sent women to the Olympics.
Will women having the ability to run for office and vote change this profound tradition that women remain in the shadow of their men? How can a woman implement any changes in this tradition when a woman still needs the approval of a male family member to exercise their right to stand and vote in the 2015 municipal elections? Will men place a check on these rights by prohibiting their wife or daughter to run for office or vote?