Saudi Arabia elects at least 17 women to local councils in historic poll

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  1. Kshatriya87

    Kshatriya87 Senior Member Senior Member

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Saudi Arabians have voted 17 women into public office in municipal elections in the conservative Islamic kingdom, the first to allow female participation, local media reports say.

    The election was the first in which women could vote and run as candidates, a landmark step in a country where women are barred from driving and are legally dependent on a male relative to approve almost all their major life decisions., a news website affiliated with the Saudi Arabia's interior ministry, reported that a total of 17 women had been elected in various parts of the country.

    "Even if it was only one woman, we're really proud of that," women's rights activist Sahar Hassan Nasief said.

    "Honestly, we weren't expecting anyone to win."

    Some results were announced on the official Saudi Press Agency, including the victories of four women.

    A teacher from the small bedouin town of Mudrika, outside the holy city of Mecca, was the first woman to be declared a winner.

    "My whole life has been a struggle," Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi said.

    Khadra al-Mubarak in the Gulf coast city of Qatif confirmed that she was also among the victors.

    "I will be in contact with society, especially women, to deliver their voices and demands to the council," she said.

    "I promise I will represent her by all means."

    However, the election was for only two thirds of seats in municipal councils that have no lawmaking or national powers, and follows men-only polls in 2005 and 2011.

    Under King Abdullah, who died in January and who announced in 2011 that women would be able to vote in this election, steps were taken for women to have a bigger public role, sending more of them to university and encouraging female employment.

    However, while women's suffrage has in many other countries been a transformative moment in the quest for gender equality, its impact in Saudi Arabia is likely to be more limited due to a wider lack of democracy and continued social conservatism.

    [​IMG] Photo: Saudi women were allowed to vote in elections for the first time ever, in a tentative step towards easing widespread sex discrimination in the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom. (AFP: STR)

    Voting rights for women remain divisive
    Before King Abdullah announced women would take part in this year's elections, the country's Grand Mufti, its most senior religious figure, described women's involvement in politics as "opening the door to evil".

    More than 900 women were among the 6,440 candidates standing for seats on 284 councils.

    They had to overcome a number of obstacles to participate in the landmark poll.

    Female candidates could not meet face-to-face with male voters during campaigning, while neither men nor women could publish their pictures.

    Women voters said registration was hindered by factors including bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of transportation.

    As a result, women accounted for less than 10 per cent of registered voters.

    Some of those who did take part took to social media to share their excitement, using the hashtag #saudiwomenvote.

    "I just voted for the first time in my life," Twitter user Amal Faisal wrote.

    "I feel empowered and proud."

    According to election commission data, nearly 1.5 million people aged 18 and above signed up for the polls.

    This included about 119,000 women, out of a total native Saudi population of almost 21 million.

    Turnout for women was around 80 per cent in parts of the country, well in excess of the figure for men.

    Overall turnout throughout the Gulf kingdom was 47.4 per cent, with a total of 702,542 voters, Municipal and Rural Affairs Minister Abdullatif bin Abdulmalik al-Shaikh said.

    Oil-rich Saudi Arabia boasts modern infrastructure of highways, skyscrapers and ever-more shopping malls.

    But women still require permission from male family members to travel, work or marry.

    Ruled by the Al-Saud family of King Salman, Saudi Arabia has no elected legislature and faces intense Western scrutiny of its rights record.

    A slow expansion of women's rights began under Salman's predecessor Abdullah, who announced four years ago that women would take part in the 2015 municipal elections.

    Men have voted since 2005 in the local polls.

    [​IMG] Photo: Saudi election officials seal the ballot box after women vote in municipal elections for the first time. (AFP: STR)
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