Timid steps toward gender equality – or at least the acquisition of some public role by women – are being made in Saudi Arabia, the ultra-conservative country were women are not allowed to have any autonomy – be it going to school, driving or traveling. Sex in Saudi Arabia is the biggest hurdle in one person’s life.
December 12 municipal elections will be an opportunity for women to have their voice heard and it will also be the first time in the kingdom history that women will participate in the elections – but only in municipal elections – both as voters and candidate; in fact 900 women are campaigning for public office since Sunday, even though some difficulties can already be found in the process.
Actually, two activists recently announced via Twitter that they had been disqualified as candidates: Loujain Hathloul, jailed for two months because she challenged kingdom laws by trying to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates last December and Nassima al-Sadah, human rights activist, who was said that she had been deleted from the candidates list without any justification, just the day before the electoral campaign started.
Unlike Saudi Arabia which is the last country to have a specific ban for universal suffrage, the other Gulf states have permitted some voting rights to women for several years. It was only in 2005 that former King Abdullah allowed the first municipal elections in the country since 1960s, but women were excluded from polling stations. After 2009 elections were postponed, in 2011the King announced that women would be granted the right to both vote and stand for election from 2012 and they were entitled to participate in 2015 municipal vote. In 2013 he also appointed women to the Shura Council and his successor Salman respected the elections scheduling.
Women freedom is however limited in the country whose legal system is the mirror of its Wahhabis government – justice is what Sharia rules strictly impose, and Sharia importance greatly surpasses any Human Right convention that the country signed.
Amnesty International activists have repeatedly denounced violations of the human rights and women unequal treatment in the Islamic Republic, western societies have turned a blind eye on executions in one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, while national and international organizations have often launched protests campaigns also to save unfairly imprisoned people.
According to the figures published by Amnesty international, at least 151 men were executed since the beginning of 2015, three of them were decapitated at the beginning of November; interrogations standards are often far from Western criteria and involve degrading treatment and corporal punishment which are explicitly prohibited by the Convention of Human Rights; in addition, the right to an equal and fair process is not contemplated by Saudi laws.
Nonetheless, Saudi authorities proclaim themselves as protectors of justice, at the point that Saudi Arabia’s ambassador Faisal Bin Hassan Thad was scandalously chosen to head UN human right panel in September.