On Sunday, for the first time in Saudi Arabia’s modern history, more than 900 women have registered to run for the municipal elections. The municipal elections on December 12th will also mark the first time women are allowed to vote.
The Saudi monarchy has been widely criticized by international human rights organizations for a lack of equal rights for women. Saudi Arabia has also been heavily criticized by the absolute absence of freedom of speech and religion. It is the only country in the world where women are still not allowed to drive and must cover themselves in black from head-to-toe. Women must also ask a male member of the family to travel, leave the house, work, or marry.
Despite the many limitations caused by these patriarchal restrictions, the participation of Saudi women in politics is considered a step forward for women and for the defenders of women’s rights. The municipal councils have limited responsibilities but also approve budgets, suggest planning regulations, and oversee urban and development projects.
Nouf al-Sadiq, a Saudi woman, believes that women’s participation in politics “is an important step towards creating greater inclusion within society.” Muna Abusulayman, another Saudi citizen believes that women’s participation in politics “will bring a female point of view, demanding certain amendments to laws that are unfavorable towards women.”
In 2011, the now deceased King Abdullah granted women some opportunities for political participation. In 2013, King Abdullah also issued a decree mandating the Consultative Council, a body that advises the King and the cabinet, be comprised of at least 20% women.
According to the Saudi electoral commission, about 7000 people are currently running for seats on 284 municipal councils. Only a small percentage of Saudi women so far have signed up to vote in elections. Of the total population of women, 131,000 women compared to 1.35 million or 10% are registered to vote in December this year.
Media Resources: CNN 11/30/15, 8/23/15; Al Jazeera 8/20/15, 3/2/14