Women's suffrage: 118 years on

From 2015, Saudi women will be given the right to vote in municipal elections. How much further has

With King Abdullah's announcement that, from 2015, women will be allowed to vote and stand for office, Saudi Arabia becomes the sixth nation in the 21st century to grant women's suffrage.

Saudi women will not take part in the country's municipal elections this Thursday, despite a two year delay for the consideration. Yesterday, the absolute monarch said:

Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics] and others ... to involve women in the Shura council as members, starting from the next term . . . Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote.

The right will be granted 122 years after New Zealand passed its Electoral Bill, and the first women of a whole nation cast ballots in an election one month later, on 28 November, 1893. Finland was the first country to grant universal suffrage in 1906, and it was a further 22 years until British women gained such rights as equal to men.

There remains a handful of nations and states around the world with partially- or fully-restricted voting on the basis of sex. One may hope this is the last century in which there be so.

2011: Where is suffrage denied?

Brunei, the Islamic sovereign state in the north of the Indonesian island Borneo, has denied the vote to all of its 400,000 citizens since 1962. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah self-appoints members to the government's five councils.

In Lebanon, voting is compulsory over the age of 21 for men, though is authorized only for women who hold proof of elementary education.

The leader of Vatican City is elected at the papal conclave by the College of Cardinals -- whom, by Catholic default, are only men.

Last weekend, the second ever election held in the United Arab Emirates saw a turnout of just 12 per cent of nationals. The state's criteria for its hand-picked voters -- a quarter of whom actually took to the ballot box -- remains unclear.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder