Riyadh: Saudi Arabia`s king grants women seats on the country`s top advisory council for first time on Friday, giving them a long-awaited toehold in the ultraconservative kingdom`s male-dominated political system.
King Abdullah`s decrees come against the backdrop of heavy restrictions on women who are not allowed to travel, work, study abroad, marry, get divorced or gain admittance to a public hospital without permission from a male guardian.
Recently, airport authorities were instructed to send text messages to the phones of male guardians -- husbands, fathers or brothers -- with information about the movements of their wives, daughters or sisters.
"The decision is good but women issues are still hanging," said Wajeha al-Hawidar, a prominent Saudi female activist. "For normal women, there are so many laws and measures that must be suspended or amended for women to be dealt with as grown-ups and adults, without a mandate from guardians."
But she said that having female members of the council could help to change women`s image in society.
"Men can finally respect women when they see them playing a (traditional) male role," she said.
The nation`s official news agency said the king issued two royal decrees granting women 30 seats on the Shura Council, which has 150 members plus a president.
The council reviews laws and questions ministers, but does not have legislative powers. All members are appointed by the king and serve four-year terms.
Since 2006, women have been appointed only as advisers to the body.