Saudi Arabia is expected to name 15 women among its 150-member Shura Council when the body’s new representatives are announced next week.
The new members are set to be revealed on 15 January and a number of prominent females have been nominated to take up positions on the council.
These include deputy chairman of the National Society for Human Rights, Al-Jowhara Al-Anqari; executive director of the National Family Safety Programme, Dr Maha Al-Muneef; rector of Princess Noura University in Riyadh, Huda Al-Ameel; and current deputy minister of education, Noora Al-Fayez.
Absolute ruler King Abdullah stated in 2011 that women would be appointed to the Shura and from 2015 would be allowed to vote and contest in municipal elections, saying: “We refuse to marginalise women in Saudi society,” adding “Muslim women in our history have had stances that cannot be sidelined.”
While many women have previously been employed as consultants to the Shura, this will be the first time they will serve as members.
The council, established in 1927, serves as Saudi Arabia’s formal advisory body and is permitted to propose draft laws which are then forwarded to the King, advise the King on policies, economic plans and international treaties, and examine annual reports. Only the king has the power to pass or enforce laws.
The council only grew to 150 members in the 2005-2009 term and the 2011 declaration by King Abdullah means that the 2013-2017 term will be the first to include women.
Members are appointed by the king and traditionally chosen from different provinces in the kingdom, representing three groups – religious establishment bureaucracy and business groups. They are usually highly educated and regarded as experts in their field.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter and the most populous country in the Gulf, enforces strict segregation of males and females throughout many aspects of day-to-day life.
Women are prohibited from driving and must obtain their husband or another male guardian’s permission to take employment or travel.