, RIYADH, Jan 11 – Saudi King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the previously all-male consultative Shura Council in decrees published on Friday, marking a historic first as he pushes reforms in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The decrees, published by the official SPA news agency, give women a 20 percent quota in the Shura Council, a body appointed by the king to advise him on policy and legislation.
One decree amended an article in the council’s statute to give women representation on the body while the other named the 150 members, among them 30 women.
King Abdullah took the decisions following consultations with religious leaders in the kingdom, where women are subjected to many restrictions and are not allowed to mix with men, according to the decrees published by the SPA.
They stipulate that men and women will be segregated inside the council, with a special area designated for females who will enter through a separate door so as not to mix with their male colleagues.
King Abdullah had been carefully treading towards change, introducing municipal elections for the first time in Saudi Arabia in 2005.
In September 2011 he granted women the right to cast ballots and run as candidates in the next local vote, set for 2015.
In announcing those changes, he also said he was planning to name women to the Shura Council.
Women’s rights activists have long fought for the right to vote in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, which applies a strict version of Sunni Islam and bans females from driving or travelling without the consent of a male guardian.