Saudi Arabia made the historic decision to allow women to enter the Shura Council last week. The fact, however, remains that none of those women will be driving to the council themselves. While the move is a major milestone in women’s empowerment, it will continue to be associated with symbolism until real steps are taken into granting women their basic rights.
The challenges faced by the government in doing so, however, must not be under-estimated. Already, powerful clerics from the religious establishment have publicly voiced their displeasure about the move, in defiance of the King’s decision. The religious establishment has come to represent a formidable political force in Saudi Arabia — one that will continue to challenge the government’s reform drive if it is not restrained.
The King’s recent measures in reining in the religious police and its attempts to arbitrarily detain Saudis and harass women, must be commended. However, this should continue to be supported by measures that accord women their rightful place in society. A gradual implementation of reforms is the best way forward.