Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – According to a recent poll conducted by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Arab Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) in partnership with the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) and the Center for Poll and Measuring, a majority of respondents had a positive impression about the general direction of women’s participation in public life in Saudi Arabia.
“For the first time ever, in the next municipal elections women in Saudi Arabia will be able to vote and even run as candidates. This new poll suggests there’s widespread support for engagement by women in the political process,” said Ambassador Mark Green, president of IRI.
For Women, Driving Not as Important as Education and Participation in Community Development Projects
Respondents were asked to evaluate the level of influence various issues have in achieving greater participation of women in public life in Saudi Arabia. Most female respondents, 52 percent, said that allowing women to drive held little to no influence at all. In contrast, improving education opportunities for girls ranked the highest among both male (82 percent) and female (87 percent) respondents as important to achieving greater participation for women in public life. This was followed by more opportunities for women’s participation in community development projects, which 55 percent of male respondents and 62 percent of female respondents said had a high influence. Not surprisingly, more men (40 percent) than women (20 percent) found lifting the guardianship law of little to no influence at all on women’s participation in public life.
Women’s Role in Decision Making
When asked to what extent respondents believed women on the Shura council play a role in advancing legal reforms, 33 percent of men and 35 percent of women said yes, to some extent and 29 percent of men and 30 percent of women said no, not at all. This relatively even divide among respondents alludes to a more general split among Saudi citizens in their perception of women as impactful decision makers in the country.
Men and Women Generally Agree on Political Issues Except for Gender Equality
The research finds that an overwhelming majority of respondents believe domestic violence, administrative and financial corruption, environmental cleanliness and the gap between extreme poverty and wealth are very important issues. However, opinions were more varied when asked about the importance of gender equality with only 35 percent of men and 31 percent of women saying gender equality was a very important issue.
Both Men and Women Agree, Saudi Arabia is Headed in the Right Direction
Overall, both men and women are hopeful for the future of women in Saudi Arabia. A majority of men, 69 percent, and women, 57 percent, believed that things were moving in the right direction for women.
AWLI is a part of IRI’s global women’s initiative, the Women’s Democracy Network, which engages and empowers women worldwide in political and civic life, and believes that if women have greater knowledge about the impediments and opportunities that they face in public life they will be better equipped to increase women’s political participation in their country.
The national survey was conducted by AWRAD and the Center for Poll and Measuring. The interviews were conducted through computer assisted telephone interviewing. Respondents were a random sample of 1,256 Saudi citizens and the margin of error for the sample is plus or minus three percent. Ten researchers conducted the survey via telephone from May 10-31, 2015. Results from two in-person focus groups held May 18-19, 2015, which included 20 participants (11 women and nine men), are also included in this research.
The research was sponsored by AWLI through funding from the National Endowment for Democracy.