Why women in Saudi Arabia have have long way to go yet
King Abdullah has announced that Saudi women will get the vote – but there's still much catching up for them to do
The new announcement means women will get the vote in four years' time, but they still face huge obstacles in daily life.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia's ruler, King Abdullah, announced that women would be given the vote in the kingdom's municipal elections – starting in 2015. It's certainly a move in the right direction, although human rights campaigners caution that the promise has been made before but not acted upon. And the kingdom still has a long way to go when it comes to equality:
Male guardianship Every woman in Saudi Arabia must have a male guardian – usually a husband or father, sometimes a son. Essentially reduced to the status of a minor, an adult woman has to seek permission from her guardian to travel, work, marry or make many other decisions. The government has taken steps to reduce the power guardians have over some aspects of women's lives, but in practice many officials still demand to see proof of permission. "This is the major issue to be resolved for women in Saudi Arabia," says Nadya Khalife, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Employment Saudi women make up 58% of graduates, but only 14% of the workforce, and usually in professions deemed "suitable" (the most common is teaching). There are no female judges, for instance. In 2010, the government announced female lawyers would be allowed to practise (until now, law graduates had only been allowed to give legal advice) in specially constituted courts where they could represent other women. Many employers still use the excuse that Saudi society is strictly gender segregated as a reason not to employ women.
Violence It is believed that huge numbers of rapes go unreported because of women's fears of punishment (the woman could be found to have flouted sex segregation rules) and bringing "shame" on their family. Rape within marriage is not recognised. "In reporting these crimes [at the police station], women have to take their male guardian with them, who may very well be the same person who is assaulting them," says Khalife.
Driving Although unenforced in many rural areas, women are not allowed to drive.
Why women in Saudi Arabia have a long way to go yet | Life and style | The Guardian