Saudi Arabia permits women seats in all-male Shura Council

King Abdullah has appointed 30 women to Saudi Arabia’s formal advisory council, suggesting the country is moving towards greater equality for women

The King of Saudi Arabia has appointed 30 women to the previously all-male Shura Council, signalling that the religiously conservative kingdom is taking small steps towards modernisation.

King Abdullah decreed that the council – which advises the government on legislation but does not have any law-making powers – should now have a fifth of its 150 seats taken by women. The idea was first introduced in a speech in 2011, where King Abdullah said the move would be crucial for “balanced modernisation in line with our Islamic values.”

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are narrowly defined by Islamic and tribal customs. Women are subject to their male guardians, requiring their permission to marry, work and travel abroad, and are forbidden from driving, mixing with unrelated men, or from holding positions of high office. They are not currently able to vote, but will be able to vote and stand in the 2015 local elections.

Some women have been quick to point out the limitations of the decision, taking to Twitter with hashtag #The_new_Shura_Council_does_not_represent_me to suggest that the move will bring about little change.

However, journalist Maha Akeel, who is based in the city of Jeddah on the Saudi west coast, told the BBC the announcement was “a very big step forward” and that young Saudis should be “more realistic, more optimistic.”

“These women will bring fresh energy and insights to the council. Their participation will open doors for women,” she said.