Saudi Arabia has decided to join the 21st century.
In a five minute speech delivered Sunday to the advisory Shura Council, King Abdullah announced a significant change in the status of women.
“Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Shari'a, we have decided after deliberation with our senior Ulam'a (clergy) and others... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from next term,” announced the elderly monarch.
“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election, and will even have a right to vote,” he added.
Saudi women began a struggle for the right to vote back in April with a special campaign organized through the Twitter social networking website. Eventually dubbed the Saudi Womens' Revolution, the movement took on a life of its own, acquiring a Facebook page and organizing groups across the country.
King Abdullah did not address the issue of whether women would be allowed to obtain a driver's license – which is still not given to women, even though technically there is no law against it. There is, however, a law on the books forbidding a woman from driving.
Although the announcement is indeed a step forward, there is still a long way to go before Saudi Arabia can be considered a “modern” nation in terms of gender equality.
Women must still receive written permission from a male guardian – be it a husband, father, brother or even a 13-year-old son – in order to work, undergo a medical procedure, or to leave the country for a trip abroad.