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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Saudi Arabia: First women elected to the Councils

Saudi Arabian lady casting her ballot during the recent election
(Image: The Telegraph)
New York Times -RIYADH: In elections that allowed Saudi women to vote and run for office for the first time, more than a dozen women won seats on local councils in different parts of the country, officials said on Sunday.

While the move was hailed by some as a new step into the public sphere by women in this religious and conservative monarchy, the local councils have limited powers and the new female members will make up less than 1 percent of the elected council members nationwide.


The participation of women in the vote was a milestone in a very gradual social shift for a country that deprives women of many basic rights, barring them from driving and from making many important decisions without the approval of a male relative.

Yet attitudes have shifted as more women have begun working outside the home and the kingdom’s youthful and well-connected population has become better acquainted with the rest of the world.

The previous Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, promised in 2011 to let women run and vote in local council elections and two years later added 30 women to the Shura Council, an appointed advisory body. His successor, Salman, has allowed those decisions to stand.

But the kingdom’s economic, foreign and military policies are set by members of the royal family and ministers appointed by the king. The country has never had a female minister.

The kingdom’s 284 local councils handle municipal issues, and candidates campaigned to fix roads, improve health care access and open public parks. Only two-thirds of the council members are elected; the rest will be appointed by the government.

It was unclear late Sunday exactly how many women had won across the country, as results in many districts were announced locally.

Reuters reported that 17 women had won, citing a news website affiliated with the Saudi Interior Ministry. The Associated Press put the number at 19.

Just under 1.5 million of the kingdom’s 20 million citizens had registered to vote, and the government on Sunday put voter participation at 47 percent. The government does not have statistics on numbers of eligible voters.