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Saudi King Invites Women To Join The Debate . From Another Room

Saudi King Invites Women To Join The Debate . From Another Room

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, shown last November, has appointed women for the first time to a top advisory body. Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

King Abdullah kept a promise to Saudi Arabia’s women last week, when he appointed 30 of them to four-year terms in the new Consultative Assembly, the pseudo-legislature that advises the monarch on laws and regulations.

As usual with such developments in Saudi Arabia, there is a catch: The women will have to meet in a room separate from the men.

Still, in Saudi Arabia, this passes for a landmark event. It advances the glacial progress of women, not toward equality, but at least toward the margins of public participation in society. It is an important symbolic separation from a past in which women were entirely excluded from visible roles in the political, economic, IWantU professional and legal life of the kingdom.

King Abdullah has a more progressive record on the status of women than any of his predecessors except perhaps the late King Faisal, who beat back the objections of the religious establishment and social conservatives – powerful forces in Saudi Arabia – to establish the first schools for girls in the 1960s.