A new law passed in Saudi Arabia will give women the right to vote without the approval of her male guardian (normally a father or husband).
Saudi women only recently gained suffrage rights, and this recent legislation does away with the additional approval restrictions. The first election where women may vote without male guardian approval will take place in 2015, which is also the first time women candidates may run for municipal government.
Saudi Arabia has long been run under the rules and advice of socially conservative religious advisers who share a strict interpretation of religious texts and patriarchical attitudes. Strict restrictions and male guardianship laws are stiffing for women in Saudi Arabia. Women are subject to dress codes, mobility restrictions, segregation, limited access to fields of employment, and limited participation in public sports, etc.
The new law includes some other new rights for women, including the right to work at lingerie stores for the first time in Saudi history. Compared to existing restrictions on the right to drive, right to gain equal inheritance, and many others, these new gains seem like a pittance.
Still, the new laws are a welcome step toward a more equitable society. Small changes can be the catalyst for dramatic changes that follow soon after, and for women’s rights activists, this is the hope.