Women Vote For The First Time In Saudi Arabia

Slowly but surely, history is being made in Saudi Arabia. This Saturday, December 12th, marked the first time in the country’s history that women were allowed to vote for, and be elected as, representatives for municipal council, the only body of Saudi Arabia’s government elected democratically. This development, however long overdue, is nonetheless historic, and is being recognized as a step towards the country’s (admittedly glacial) progress toward gender equality.

Over 106,600 women took to the polls, which is about 82 percent of the number of those who registered. As a result, 19 women were voted into office, which is kind of a dismal amount, considering that there were about 979 female candidates who ran for office. There were about 2,100 open seats overall. There is still a possibility, however, of more women being appointed with the King’s approval later on.


All this sounds good, but let’s not go out into the streets, ringing the bells of equality and declaring the end of institutionalized sexism just yet. Gender segregation laws in Saudi Arabia are still strictly enforced—those women who voted had to do so in separate polling stations from men, and female candidates were not even allowed to speak directly to male voters. Instead, many communicated through a partition with a microphone, or by using male campaign representatives. Also infuriating is that many women didn’t even register to vote; they believe, after being told in more ways than one by men, that women “have no place in government,” and are “not used to making decisions.”

And though women are still horrendously underrepresented in the Saudi Arabia’s government, Hatoon Al-Fassi–general coordinator of a grassroots initiative to raise voter awareness and promote female participation in government—says winning votes is not what makes this development important. Overall, she said, it is “an opportunity to exercise our right [of being a citizen] and push for more.”

Images via TheLipTV and the Chicago Tribune.

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