Saudi Arabia: Women Are Just Starting To Register To Exercise Their Right To Vote

Women in Saudi Arabia have just begun to register their names in the electoral list to exercise their right to vote. Incidentally, the right was accorded to them way back in 2011.

Two Saudi Arabian women made history this week by being the first to register their names in the electoral list. Jamal al-Saadi and Safinaz Abu al-Shamat registered in Medina and Mecca, respectively. Interestingly, though the right to vote was given by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in 2011, this will be the first election wherein women will cast their votes. Besides al-Saadi and al-Shamat, four other women have chosen to get their names in the voting list.

Apart from the right to vote, the king had even allowed women to run for office in the same year. Despite being traditionally a strong male-dominated culture, where women do not get to attend meetings that discuss their rights, the king felt that those of the fairer gender would offer a never-before-openly-heard perspective, said Saudi philanthropist Muna Abusulayman.

“[Female candidates] will bring a female point of view, demanding certain amendments to laws that are unfavorable towards women.”

Though women who intend to run for office won’t be allowed to register before the end of this month, Arab News reported that as many as 70 Saudi women are eager to fight for representation in the administration, while 80 more have vouched to support these women by becoming their campaign managers.

Till date, the only administrative representation that the women had was through the Shura Council. The council was merely a consultative body that could only offer suggestions to the king, reported Al Jazeera. Though 30 women were part of the council, many argued that the body was nothing more than eyewash and women still had no real legislative power.

To change the scenario, several Saudi Arabia women created the Baladi Initiative, reported MSN. The program aims to educate women and raise awareness about the changing laws that would certainly aid in tipping the scales of balance, albeit slightly to begin with, in favor of women, said the body’s General Coordinator Hatoun al-Fasi. al-Fasi said as follows.

“Baladi has had a plan to hold several workshops to educate the people about the culture of elections. However, the ministry has stopped us from holding these workshops as they wanted the election program to be more unified and centralized.”

Interestingly, while the women are now allowed to vote, they will still require men to ferry them to the voting booth and back because they still aren’t allowed to drive.

[Image Credit: Hassan Ammar / Getty Images]