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26 September 2011

Women’s suffrage: 118 years on

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

By Alice Gribbin

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.

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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.