Local election to break stereotypes
The decision of allowing women to participate in the elections as voters and candidates gave Saudi Arabia the needed glow and excellence as a Muslim country working steadily and confidently to provide its people with all the facilities to ensure a stable and prosperous life.
The upcoming municipal elections are not the first to be held in Saudi Arabia. This will be the third time that Saudis will be given an opportunity to exercise their political right to choose their local representatives in a transparent manner. The first local elections were held in 2005 and then in 2011. This will be the first local election during the reign of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman.
However, the difference between the previous elections and the upcoming one is that women have been given the right to exercise their right by taking an effective part in the decision-making process.
For many of us, it is a dream come true. I remember a Shoura Council session during which we, the council members, discussed a report presented by the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. It was during that session that this writer had made a recommendation to the housing and public services committee to allow women to participate in the municipal elections both as voters and candidates.
After a few weeks, the committee said that it would adopt my recommendation provided I gave up the part where women could be candidates. According to the committee, our society was not ready for such a change.
Knowing that if I insisted on my first recommendation I would face the council alone, I decided to take matters one step at a time and accepted to alter my proposal to give women the right to vote, hoping to include them as candidates the proceeding year.
During the voting session, I found that another fellow member, Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Anad had made a similar recommendation calling for women’s wider participation in the municipal elections. The relevant committee merged both the recommendations in one text stating, “Taking the necessary steps to involve women in the municipal elections as voters in accordance with the Shariah regulations.”
A majority of 81 votes were in favor of the decision, while 37 declined. Following the routine course of action, the board’s decision was then submitted to late King Abdullah.
After only a few months, everybody was surprised to hear about the king’s decision allowing women to take part in the political process as voters and candidates. This decision was, undoubtedly, inspired by the important role women had played throughout the history of Islam.
Even the extreme optimists believed that such a move would take a few years, maybe a decade to materialize. But the implantation of this decision clearly indicates that the state is way ahead on the path to social progress and is adopting a balanced reforms approach. Knowing that Islam doesn’t oppose modernization, the decision was received with an exceptional momentum.
Nowadays, Saudi women are busy taking part in municipal elections and proving that Saudi Arabia’s policies are based only on national motives and that the Kingdom doesn’t respond to unnecessary external pressures.
Saudi Arabia has time and again proved that change comes from within. Perhaps the importance of the decision was retuning the society to its natural balance. Such partnership between men and women in the development process is not a luxury but a necessity. This decision will have far-reaching cultural and social impact on our country.
Forces against Saudi Arabia and other anti-Saudi elements who don’t wish to see the Kingdom on the road to success, did not waste time and started criticizing and underestimating this important step.
They ignored all professional norms and concept of objectivity while criticizing the Kingdom. They tried their level best to prove to the West that Saudi Arabia’s stance toward women would never change.
The importance of women’s participation in the public sphere is no less than that of their male counterparts. There are Saudi women who are qualified to assume high-level public positions. Many Saudi women are already doing better in their respective fields than their male colleagues. If given an environment conducive to growth, our women could excel and compete at any level. It’s time to change the stereotypical views about women. Women are an important part of society and a key element in development.
The writer is a member of the Saudi Shoura Council.
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