12 Dec 2015

Saudi women vote for the first time

Polls have closed in municipal elections in which women cast ballots and stood as candidates for the first time in the history of the conservative Gulf state.

Saudi woman voter (Reuters)

Nearly 6,000 men and around 980 women ran as candidates for local council seats. Just over 130,000 women registered to vote compared to 1.35 million men.

One female candidate, Haifa Al-Habbabi, said that the elections may seem like a small steps to outsiders, but were big steps for a country where many aspects of public life are governed by a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

She said: “I think it’s an achievement not only for women, for women and men as well – for the society. because there’s a lot of changes in this time, the age of the candidate, the age of the participation and also the candidate number.

“Before, it was 20 chosen appointed by the government, one chosen by the people. Now it is become two chosen by the people one appointed by the government.

“A lot of power that the candidate can have so it is really like totally different now, so that is why my slogan was ‘change for life’.”

Some women who voted complained that numbers were low, with many people failing to register to vote. At least five million people were eligible to vote, according to the General Election Commission.

The desert kingdom is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive cars, largely due to pressure from conservative Muslim clerics 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.