Women in Saudi Arabia just voted and won council seats for the first time ever

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Historic elections took place in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, with women being allowed to vote and run for office for the first time in the country's history.


A local, government-aligned news agency, SABQ.com, reported that 17 women won seats in the elections, according to Reuters, in provinces across the country.

The elections were for local municipal council seats, so the women elected won't have the power to change national legislation, but it's progress toward allowing women to have any civic engagement beyond being included on some hand-picked advisory boards.


Women tweeted from the polling stations on Saturday:


The Independent points out that this is just a small step forward for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, where many restrictions are still in place: women aren't allowed to drive, and are still required to rely on male relatives' approval for where they work and who they marry. Men also have the power to prevent women from leaving the house under Saudi law.

Even registering to vote in the elections was not straightforward for some women, the BBC reports, despite suggestions earlier this year from two ride sharing companies, Kareem and Uber, that they would offer free rides to women wanting to register and vote:

Officials said about 130,000 women had registered to vote in Saturday's poll, compared with 1.35 million men.

The disparity was attributed by female voters to bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of transport, the AFP news agency says.

Female candidates were also not allowed to address male voters directly during campaigning. Turnout was high, state media reported.


But women who voted and ran in the elections see this as a significant stepping stone to further reform, even if it comes at a slow pace.

“Many people think elections are just for show because the government wants to demonstrate that there are reforms here. It doesn’t matter what the government wants. What matters is how I can use this to change things," Nassima al-Sada, an activist, told the Guardian.  "Globalisation and social media mean the whole world is connected. Change will happen. The only question is how long it will take.”


Saudi Arabia is governed by a monarch, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, but in recent years there have been moves toward limited democracy. Local elections took place in 2005 and 2011, and Salman's predecessor, King Abdullah, announced before his death that women would get the right to be able to vote and stand for local government.

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