Seventeen women ran as candidates in the election for the board of directors of the Jiddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, making it the first time women have been on a ballot in Saudi Arabia. According to United Press International, the polls were open to businesswomen this past Saturday and Sunday, and while low turnout among women voters was reported, the election is being considered as a significant step forward for Saudi women.
According to the New York Times, a total of 71 candidates ran for the 12 seats open for election to the board, with some women forming alliances with male candidates and others running independently. Ulfat Qabbani, a female candidate, told Reuters that the inclusion of women in the election “has created a positive stir in Saudi society and heralds a renaissance for Saudi women.”
Last year, the Saudi Interior Minister announced that Saudi women would be excluded from running or voting in municipal council elections. The decision was another blow to women in a country where a husband’s permission is required in order for a woman to work, study, or travel. Women are also barred from driving, leaving home without being fully covered with black cloaks, or mixing with men in public.