The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. At the time, the royal decree was criticized as an attempt to redirect international attention from a harsh governmental crackdown on women drivers.
Voter registration began over the weekend in cities Madinah and Makkah, where a small number of women showed up to register. Jamal Al-Saadi was one such woman, saying that she was “quite ready” for this time to come.
“The participation of Saudi women in the municipal elections as voters and candidates was a dream for us,” Saadi said. “The move will enable Saudi women to have a say in the process of the decision-making.” Voting for all women will be opening in upcoming weeks.
Saudi Arabia still has far to go in reaching gender parity. Last year, a UN report ranked the country at 136 out of 140 in terms of gender equality. Saudi women still face massive barriers to autonomy, such as not being able to open a bank account, obtain a passport, or sometimes walk down the street on their own. Even more concerning is the Saudi male guardianship system, which gives men authority over women’s lives. The Feminist Majority and the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have long called for the removal of this antiquated sexist system.
The women registering to vote in this election recognize that this small win is just part of a larger fight for women’s rights and gender equality.
“We are just at the beginning of the road,” Saadi says.
Media Resources: Femnist Newswire 7/27/11; Saudi Gazette 8/26/15; MSNBC 8/24/15; UN Report 2014;