Saudi King Appoints Women to Advisory Council

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia appointed the first female members to the previously all-male consultative Shura Council, his top advisory body on legislation and policy. The council reviews laws and questions ministers, but does not have legislative powers. All 150 members are appointed by the king and serve four-year terms.

The decrees giving women a 20 percent quota in the Shura Council were published by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Friday, January 11. One decree amended an article in the council's statute to give women representation on the body, while the other named the 150 members, among them 30 women. They will be required to wear proper hijab, or covering, and will have a separate entrance and section within the council's main chambers.

King Abdullah had been carefully treading towards change, introducing municipal elections for the first time in Saudi Arabia in 2005. In September 2011, he granted women the right to cast ballots and run as candidates in the next local vote, set for 2015. In announcing those changes, he also said he was planning to name women to the Shura Council.

"The [latest] decision is good but women issues are still hanging," said Wajeha al-Hawidar, a prominent Saudi female activist. “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.” But she also said that having female members of the council could help to change the image of women in society: “Men can finally respect women when they see them playing a (traditional) male role.”

The Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Anders B. Johnsson, welcomed the king’s decision as “another step forward not just on women’s political rights but also in helping to transform parliament into a more representative and responsive body for the Saudi people as a whole.”

“Until the announcement last September by King Abdullah to give women the right to vote, stand for election in municipal elections and be appointed to the Shura Council, the Gulf country remained the only country in the world where women remained excluded from the political process,” the IPU said in a statement. According to their data, the 20 percent quota for women makes Saudi Arabia the fourth highest in the Arab region in terms of women's political participation in parliament, although the Shura Council does not have legislative powers.  


AP (12.01.2013) “Saudi women get seats on Shura council for 1st time”

Ellen Knickmeyer, The Wall Street Journal (11.01.2013) “Saudi King Appoints Women to Advisory Council”

Al Jazeera (12.01.2013) “Saudi king names women to advisory council” 

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