Women may have the right to vote and run in Saudi Arabia's municipal elections in 2015 — however, female candidates won't be allowed to have their pictures on campaign posters.
According to Emirates 24/7, Sheikh Abdullah Al Manei, a member of Saudi Arabia's supreme scholars council, has said, "Women will not be allowed to publish their pictures in streets, trade centres and other public places in their campaigns for the next round of municipal elections." He explains, "Voters, whether they are men or women, need not see the face of the candidate when they vote because they will vote for the person for his or her views and experience to serve the public interest." Female candidates will be allowed to use their pictures in dedicated women's halls, and they can use their names and personal information to campaign.
Relatedly, although women will now be able to serve in Saudi Arabia's appointed parliament, the Shura, they won't be able to sit with men. Al Manei says, "Women can join Shura according to legal conditions which are based on the need for them not to mix with men in the council…each gender will have to be seated in the floor level allocated for them." Both these decisions show that although Saudi Arabia is taking some steps toward including women in government, longstanding laws against gender mixing make such inclusion practically difficult. Are women really going to be equal members of parliament if they can't sit on the same floor as men? The fact that women's faces can't appear on campaign posters may spare women the looks-based scrutiny they often endure otherwise, but the election won't really be fair if men can post their photos and women can't. And the ruling suggests other problems down the line — will female municipal leaders be allowed to address their constituencies? Can they really lead if their interactions with the men in their districts are so limited? Even if women are allowed to vote and serve in government, they won't have equal political participation until they can move freely in public the way men can.