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Saudi king OK’s women on council

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s king granted women seats on the country’s top advisory council for the 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.

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‘‘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 on the council could help to change the image of women 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.

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