Saudi Arabia has taken an unprecedented step towards meaningful political and social reform, with King Abdullah appointing 30 women to the ultra-conservative Shura Council on Friday.

The move means women will now account for 20 per cent of members of the previously all-male council, whose primarily role is to advise the king on policy.

King Abdullah is said to have made the decision following consultation with the country’s religious leaders.

Under the terms of the agreement, female members will be segregated from their male colleagues during council meetings.

King Abdullah has taken significant steps towards greater inclusion for women in Saudi politics and society in recent years. In 2011, he announced women would be allowed to vote and run as candidates in the next local elections, scheduled for 2015.