In 2011, the late King Abdullah changed the course of Saudi Arabia’s history by setting a decree declaring that women could vote in local elections. On Saturday Dec. 12, Saudi Arabian women lined up to vote for the first time and many were also in the running for candidacy.
Up to 19 women were elected for local offices over the weekend in cities such as Mecca, Riyadh, Jawf, Madrakah, Tabuk, Qassim, Jeddah and Qatif. 979 women ran in their municipal elections next to almost 6,000 men in 284 city councils for 2,100 seats across the country.
Al Jazeera reports Dec. 13 that Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was the first woman to be elected to a city council. She was elected in Madrakah, a village of the Makkah Province in western Saudi Arabia.
Many women went to the polls to exercise their electoral rights, seeing the action as the first of many steps towards a brightening future for women in Saudi Arabia. Women voters will be able to express their needs through the voting process. Having women officials will help to bring women’s needs and concerns to the table.
Fahda al-Rwali, one of the women voters told Al Jazeera, “As a woman, I need some services, some needs in my neighbourhood, like nurseries. I need social centres for youth and retirement, like this. So maybe the woman can concentrate more than the man on those needs.”
Saudi Arabian women hope that the landmark elections will lead to a more inclusive society, not only for them, but for their youth. The voting age has recently been reduced from 21 to 18.
According to CBC News, this election saw 130,000 female registered voters, 82 percent of whom cast their votes along side of 600,000 male voters. 1.35 million men had registered. Women voters said that there would have been more of them out at the polls if they were able to to circumvent bureaucratic obstacles, the lack of how the voting process works, how important it is and the lack of transport to the polls.
In Saudi Arabia, women are still not allowed to drive. They are not allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone. Photographs of them during the electoral process, as well as during the course of their work is banned. Luckily, in these elections, photos of male candidates were also banned.
The most conservative of Saudi Arabia’s cities, Riyadh, saw the most women candidates being elected. This in the face of numerous critics who see women getting the vote as a step towards Westernization.