Though the world thought the odds were remote
It’s a milestone that’s worthy of note
Though they can’t drive a car
So it’s kind of bizarre
Saudi women will now get to vote
Of course, this story is everywhere. In the comments of the NPR article, one comment began “[t]he right to vote is not a king’s to give.” Beautiful iambic pentameter; I was sorely tempted to bust out a sonnet. But it is also one of my favorite debate topics, on which I have gone many rounds on many occasions. I’ve never liked the concept of “rights”; they make no sense to me. In this case, it is very clear that the king has the power, in Saudi Arabia, to grant women the right to vote. But the commenter would call this “recognizing their right to vote”. It is as if only god or nature could “give” a right to vote, or that (as a libertarian friend once claimed) “rights are a property of people like inertia is a property of matter.”
Except that, quite clearly, they are not. If I can, with a bomb, a gun, or a blunt or pointy object, take from you your life, then your “right to life” is clearly a different sort of stuff than an object’s inertia. A “right of way” is yours if and only if someone else yields it. Rights are a social construct. A useful one, at times at least, but clearly a social construct, dependent on agreement by the parties involved.
And in that sense, yes, the king granted (or rather, is granting or will grant, given that it is not taking place immediately) women the right to vote. Which, while not perfect, is a step in the right direction.