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The news last week that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has followed through on his commitment to appoint women to the consultative Shura Council marks not only an historic change for the Kingdom but also an important advance for women’s rights in the Arab world.


In particular, the powerful symbolism of the Shura now having 30 women members should help move other institutions to begin allowing women members. However, the greatest point of optimism is that the King followed through at all. The last two years of Arab Spring stresses on Saudi Arabia and public demands for reform have caused some to believe that women would have to wait longer to join the Shura Council. And since the King has now followed through on this promise, it is even more likely that he will follow through on his pledge to allow women to vote and stand for office when municipal elections are next called.


The King deserves credit for doing what is in the best interest of Saudi Arabia and all of its citizens. Giving women a voice in the consultative Shura will be another means of showing that the citizens of Saudi Arabia aren’t fundamentally different from those in Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen or other countries of the Arab world: they need representatives from every segment of society. The change may not be simple, but like every country that has gone through the same process, the people will benefit in the end. And that is the point.


The Kingdom has no shortage of energetic and smart women who are ready to serve the public. The King’s decision is an acknowledgement that effective leaders are needed, regardless of gender. This week’s announcement may be a relatively small step for Saudi women, but it is a big stride for Saudi Arabia. The giant leap will come later.


Kent Patton is the Freedom Collection Blog Editor.