Saudi Arabian Women Vote For The First Time Ever In Historic Elections
In a sign that Saudi Arabia is taking steps towards sexual equality, the first Saudi women to ever cast a ballot hugged and took selfies during the Saturday elections.
A host of other restrictions still remain though, including the ban on female driving.
Election overseers spoke passionately about women’s rights, with the municipal council elections including some 950 female candidates.
The sentiment of Saudi men appears to have changed, with more men seemingly in favor of a woman’s right to vote. Opposition from hard-line clerics is still strong, though the change in stance could not have been made without the approval of the highest levels of the religious hierarchy.
“Do you just want to keep the door locked on her?” said 65-year-old Fahd al-Shewaydah, who needed help to walk from the polling station to his car in Riyadh. “It’s a blessed hour.”
Only two thirds of the seats are decided via election; the remaining seats are appointed based on expertise.
“We expect, we hope, there will be women winners,” said Hamad Saad al-Omar, a spokesman for the government ministry overseeing the elections. “If they lose, it’s possible they could be appointed, depending on the needs.”
Women have been appointed to the Shura Council, part of a series of changes promised by the late King Abdullah who passed away earlier this year.
King Salman’s policies appear to be, at least for now, following his predecessor’s last wishes.
“There are inherent tensions in the country that Salman must heed,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a professor of political sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh. “Along with social reforms, people also want some political reforms and a greater say in the country’s affairs. This is especially true after the Arab Spring.”
“Salman,” he added, “has to figure out how to thread this needle.”
Saudi Arabia’s social media landscape is one of the world’s most active, with a large number of citizens below the age of 30. Social media is thus one of the main methods for female candidates to reach out to potential voters, and is perhaps one means with which young Saudis can influence the policies of the rigid monarchy.
Female voters had a list of priorities that came ahead of driving though:
“Let’s worry about the big things first before we get bogged down in disputes over driving,” said Najd al-Hababi, whose sister, Haifa, was running for a council seat. “I know this is a huge thing in the West, but we have other things, bigger things, on our agenda.”
As female voters entered the polling stations, some withdrew their facial coverings for a peek, and revealed that they were smiling beneath their veils.
“This isn’t just a step for Saudi women,” said voter Fatima al-Juraysi. “It’s a giant step. Let’s now hope it isn’t the last.”