For First Time, Women Vote In Saudi Election | Independent Newspapers Limited
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For First Time, Women Vote In Saudi Election

Posted: Dec 12, 2015 at 5:29 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Thousands of Saudi women headed to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in a landmark election.

Nearly 6,000 men and around 980 women are running as candidates for local municipal council seats. More than 130,000 women have registered to vote compared to 1.35 million men. The General Election Commission says there are at least 5 million eligible voters out of a population of 20 million, but the figure could be much higher.

The election, which does not have quotas for females, is widely seen as an incremental but significant opening for women to play a more equal role in Saudi society.

Candidate Latifa Al-Bazei, a 53-year-old public school principal, said her participation in the race felt like a continuation of her service to the community. She wants to see Saudi Arabia’s majority youth population under 25 years old get more involved in their local communities.

“I’ve served 23 years as a teacher and school administrator … My goal is development, change and innovation,” she said at a Riyadh polling station after casting her vote.

Despite enthusiasm for the race among some, not many women are expected to win seats because of the sheer number of male candidates and because many had no previous experience running campaigns. Many women said they also could not afford the high cost of running a highly visible campaign.

Female candidates will also contend with a deep societal belief among many Saudi voters that women do not belong in public life. Abdullah Al-Maiteb made his way into a polling station in the capital Riyadh Saturday morning, expressing a widely held sentiment about why women shouldn’t be on the ballot.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive cars, largely due to pressure from religious conservatives in the kingdom. Saudi women are also governed by guardianship laws that require them to have the permission of male relatives, usually the father or husband, in order to marry, obtain a passport, travel abroad or access higher education.