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Saudi king appoints first women to Consultative Council

By Bloomberg News

This article was published January 11, 2013 at 7:13 a.m.

— King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia appointed female members to the Consultative Council for the first time, naming 30 women to the 150-member advisory body.

The appointments, reported by the official Saudi Press Agency, came after Abdullah issued a decree requiring at least 20 percent of members should be women.

It says they must observe Islamic law and be properly covered, and will enjoy full rights in the council, have a separate entrance to the chamber and sit in a special section apart from men.

“I’m very happy. This is a step forward,” said Wajeeha al-Howaider, a leading women’s rights activist, in a phone interview from the Saudi city of Dhahran. “Women’s representation, though small, will help women because their issues will be addressed more.”

Saudi Arabia, which has the world’s second-largest oil reserves, enforces constraints on women stemming from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Men and women are segregated in public, including at schools, restaurants and lines at fast-food takeouts. Women need permission from a male guardian to go to school or get married, and are barred from driving.

King Abdullah has taken some measures to expand women’s rights in the kingdom since he came to power in 2005, in the face of resistance from the religious establishment.

He has granted women the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections, opened the first co-educational university, and ordered that lingerie stores be staffed by women.

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