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MIDEAST > Women join Parliament for first time in S Arabia

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Saudi King Abdullah names 30 women to the Shura Council, the country’s main advisory body, in a historic move as he pushes reforms in a country guided by an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam

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Female activists have long fought for their rights in Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from traveling without the consent of a male guardian. AP photo

Female activists have long fought for their rights in Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from traveling without the consent of a male guardian. AP photo

Saudi King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the previously all-male consultative Shura Council in decrees published on Jan. 11, marking a historic first as he pushes reforms in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The decrees, published by the official SPA news agency, give women a 20-percent quota in the Shura Council, a body appointed by the king to advise him on policy and legislation, Agence France-Presse reported.

One decree amended an article in the council’s statute to give women representation in the body while the other named the 150 members, among them 30 women. King Abdullah made the decision following consultations with religious leaders in the kingdom, where women are subjected to many restrictions and are not allowed to mix with men, according to the decrees published by the SPA. After the decree, the country’s top cleric warned on Jan. 11 against the mixing of genders, saying it poses a threat to female chastity and society, the Associated Press reported.

Delivering his traditional Friday sermon, Grand Mufti Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik said authorities must adhere to Shariah, or Islamic law, by ensuring men and women are separated as much as possible at all times. The cleric’s comments come just weeks ahead of allowing women to be members of the Shura Council. “It is necessary for women to be separated from men as much as possible, because this great religion protects the chastity of women against evil and corruption,” Al-Sheik told worshippers at the Imam Turki mosque in Riyadh.

Women’s right to vote came in 2011

Since 2006, women have been appointed as advisors to the council, an appointed, consultative body that has the authority to review laws and question ministers but cannot propose or veto legislation.
There are currently 12 female advisors, but they do not have the right to vote in the assembly. 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 election, set for 2015. In announcing those changes, he also said he was planning to name women to the Shura Council.

Women’s rights activists have long fought for the right to vote in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, which applies a strict version of Sunni Islam and bans females from driving or traveling without the consent of a male guardian.

The country is guided by an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism. They cannot travel, work, study abroad, marry, get divorced or gain admittance to a hospital without permission from a male guardian.

January/12/2013

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