By Emily Chan
There is cause for celebration: Saudi Arabian women now have the right to vote and the right to run in municipal elections. For a country famous for its extreme gender inequality and oppression, this is a giant step in the right direction. However, one must also question King Abdullah’s motives for granting women these great privileges.
One could argue that these new privileges are simply the equivalent of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution that gave women the right to vote in 1920. Superficially, the two are the same, but on a deeper level, they could not be more different. The 19th Amendment also came after a hard fight, but it was granted with no strings attached, while in Saudi Arabia, women are just as oppressed as ever despite their new “privilege”.
Saudi Arabian women are still required to have a male chaperone wherever they go; they are not allowed to drive. How can they actually run for election or make it to a voting booth easily if they cannot drive? While it appears Saudi Arabian women may be on their way to gaining equality, this new right to vote seems to be little more than a tease.
Most likely, King Abdullah has no real urge to make men and women equal. Instead, he has probably tired of international ridicule about the way women are treated in his country and has been pressure to change it. It is still a good sign that some changes have been made, but these changes will not be put into action until the next election in 2015.
Although this may seem to be a pessimistic view of a generally positive change, it is also a realistic view. Yes, we must celebrate this historic moment, but we must also hope that more steps towards gender equality are not far behind.