30 women have been appointed to the Shura council, which has been staffed traditionally by men. These women will be part of the group that advises the monarch on government policy. There are 150 Shura council members in total, so this number of women represents a significant 20 percent of the body. Incidentally, this is a much higher number of female representation than President Obama has employed in similar roles.
The principle of segregation of men and women will still be enforced. The female advisors will enter through a different door, separate from their male counterparts. This initative of appointing 30 councilwomen continues a trend of King Abdullah’s being extremely progressive on the women issue. For example, in 2005, he introduced municipal elections for women. In 2001, he allowed women the right to vote in local elections.
This all represents significant progress for Saudi women. However, let’s hope that they do not ‘progress’ to the point that Western women experience: the right to have abortions under any circumstances, the right to binge drink, and the right to have indiscriminate sex, and try to avoid the negative consequences through the birth control pill. Sometimes, I think Western progress for women should be labelled regression instead. Women in Victorian times (in the 19th century, under Queen Victoria of England) had fewer ‘rights’ than modern women do, and many activists say that they are glad that women have ‘progressed,’ but back then, society was full of people who actually experienced shame. Nowadays, we are not allowed to feel shame. We are not permitted to feel bad, because we are all good people, and might learn from our mistakes. However, there is something to be said for the principle of not letting women go around on our own all the time (for safety reasons, etc.). Men and women are different, and we cannot ignore biology.