Women Officially Banned from Voting, Running for Office in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, announced in an interview on Monday that women will not be able to participate as either voters or candidates in the first nationwide vote held in the monarchy. Nayef cited administrative and logistical reasons for the decision, saying that there are too few women for the task of running women-only voter registration and polling centers, and also that not enough women in Saudi Arabia have a photo identification card, which is necessary to vote in the election scheduled for next year, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Several women are preparing to run in the election, according to the Washington Post, and they do not intend to withdraw until officially told to do so.

Saudis will vote to elect half the members of the municipal council, with the ruling royal family appointing the other half. It is not yet clear what powers the councils will have. According to the Associated Press, the upcoming elections were planned in response to calls for social change and modernization.

The decision to ban women from the election process is 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. To Rima Khaled, a 20-year-old Saudi woman, a woman’s right to vote is a moot point in Saudi Arabia. Khaled told the Associated Press, “What’s the point of voting? Even if we did vote, we would go home to the men in our lives who will have the last say in whatever we do.”

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Associated Press 10/11/04; Christian Science Monitor 10/12/04; Washington Post 10/11/04

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