(Vatican) Pope Francis has decided to give women the right to vote at an upcoming meeting of bishops, an unprecedented change that reflects his hopes to give women more decision-making responsibilities and lay people more voice in the life of the Catholic Church.

Francis approved changes to the norms governing the synod of bishops, a Vatican body that brings together bishops from around the world for periodic meetings.

The Vatican released the changes it approved on Wednesday, which underscore its vision for a greater role for the lay faithful in ecclesiastical affairs that has long been left to clerics, bishops and cardinals.

For decades, women have been demanding the right to vote at synods, the next of which is scheduled for October.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, which modernized the Church in the 1960s, popes have summoned bishops from all over the world to Rome for a few weeks to discuss particular topics.

At the end of these meetings, the bishops vote on specific proposals and submit them to the pope, who then drafts a document taking their opinions into account.

Until now, only men could vote.

But with the new changes, five nuns will join five priests as voting representatives of religious orders.

In addition, Francis decided to appoint 70 synod members who are not bishops and asked that half of them be women. They will also have voting rights.