Guest post by Henry Jackson Communications Assistant Rosanna Rafel
Since King Abdullah came to power in Saudi Arabia in 2005, his moves towards reform, particularly for women, have been closely monitored. David Cameron visited Dubai in early November 2012 to secure a defence deal with Saudi Arabia, disappointing many human rights activists when he claimed that “On human rights, there are no no-go areas in this relationship. We discuss all of these things but we also show respect and friendship to a very old ally and partner”
In light of the Saudi monarchy’s alliance with the Wahabi Ullama, the religious scholarly community which adheres to a strict Salafi interpretation of Islam, reforms have proceeded cautiously. King Abdullah has announced that women will be appointed to the Shura advisory council from 2013, and will be granted the right to vote and stand in municipal elections starting from 2015. Women are also to be granted the right to practice law in the Kingdom, and will be given permission for the first time to join the religious police. Government scholarships have also been available to women since 2005 to encourage their education in foreign universities, suggesting an increased focus on women in the workplace.
Although Saudi Arabia women appear to be advancing in their fight for political and legal equality, but the fact remains that these measures still fall short of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). If Saudi Arabia is to make further progress in this area, it is vital that other issues, including freedom of movement and matrimonial equality are addressed in line with the requirements of CEDAW.