Saudi Arabia will allow women to stand for election and vote, the king announced on Sunday, in a significant policy shift in the conservative Islamic kingdowm. In a five-minute speech, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud said women will also take part in the next session of the unelected, advisory Shura Council, which vets legislation but has no binding powers. "Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama (clerics) and others... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term," he said in a speech delivered to the advisory body. "Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote." Women's rights are regarded as a litmus test for the government's appetite for social and political reform. Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict version of Islamic law that enforces the segregation of the sexes. "This is great news," said Wajeha al-Huwaider, a Saudi writer and women's rights activist. "Women's voices will finally be heard. "Now it is time to remove other barriers like not allowing women to drive cars and not being able to function, to live a normal life without male guardians."