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Saudi Arabian Women Organize To Demand Rights In Advance Of International Women’s Day
March 3, 2014
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A Saudi woman takes a picture at the Janadriyah festival of Heritage and Culture in Riyadh last week. (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

March 8 is International Women's Day, and one of the places where that has particular significance right now is Saudi Arabia. Currently, women in the kingdom are excluded from basic freedoms — they're not allowed to drive, or to travel without the consent of a male guardian.

But a group of courageous women has organized a petition to end the absolute power of men over women. The petition has been signed by 10 female activists, and will be presented to the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia, the closest thing the country has to a parliament. The petition demands "measures to protect [women's] rights" by lifting the country's repressive guardianship laws, and also calls for women being allowed to drive. 

Whether the petition will be successful is another question. 

Last year, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council — the first time women have held such positions. Still, the Council is made up of 150 members, the rest of whom are male. Also, the Council is only an advisory body — as Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, only the king can actually enact legislation.

"A woman is considered a perennial minor," wrote Haya Al-Manee, one of the 30 appointed women, in the newspaper Al-Riyadh. "By the laws of the Kingdom, a man is considered a minor until he reaches his 18th year of age. But a woman, from a legal point of view, remains always a minor, regardless of age."

There have been some recent signs of change in Saudia Arabia. In February, Somayya Jabarti was named the first female newspaper editor in the country's history as she took over the reins of the English-language Saudi Gazette. 

In January, the country lifted a notification program introduced in 2012 that alerted male guardians if women under their custody left the country.

In October 2013, a petition to support the right of Saudi women to drive garnered more than 16,500 names, with some women even posting videos of themselves driving in defiance of the country's laws. 

And the right of women to partcipate in municipal elections — the next ones are being held in 2015 — is currently under review, with women potentially able to participate as both candidates and voters. 

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