Saudi Arabia’s First Elected Women to Public Office

A huge step forward for the rights of women in Saudi Arabia was taken this Monday. At least 17 women have been elected to public office. Saturday’s election proved historic as it marked the first time women in the country were allowed to both vote  run for office.

The female’s now in position are Salma al-Oteibi in the Mecca region, Lama al-Suleiman and Rasha Hufaithi in Jeddah, Hanouf al-Hazimi in Al Jouf province, and Sanaa al-Hammam and Masoumah Abdelreda in the Ahsa region. 

Although there were many restirctions and limitations on women running and voting, they managed to pull through and pull ahead. Female candidates were banned from speaking with male voters, and female voters offten were posed with many dificult registration processes. But with strength and determination, in the end 979 women candidates and 130,637 women voters were registered. The process by which the seats of their government are filled is, voters account for half of the memebers in power and their king is who selects the other half.

“Saudi women have faced significant obstacles in their fight for their right to vote,” said Middle East director for Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson, in a release last week. “Their participation on December 12 will send a strong signal to Saudi society that women are continuing the long march toward greater participation in public life.”

Saudi Arabia operates under a very restraining interpertation of Sunni Islam which imposes male guardianship over women. This “guardianship” forbids women to travel alone, even just to school. Their King Abdullah died in January, whoever he did push for reform that resulted in this election. His decree in 2011 ordered women be allowed to vote in municipal elections and even stand as candidates. It caused for slight turmoil, but he brought stability, as well as change. He ordered that at least 20% of seats in the Consultative Council be reserved for women representatives. The council is the body of government which advises the King and even proposes laws.

The number of women in the Saudi workforce also has been increasing and hopefully their rights will soon expand.


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