Tuesday 17 October 2017

At least five women elected to councils in landmark elections in Saudi Arabia

Saudi women vote at a polling center during the country's municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Saudi women vote at a polling center during the country's municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

At least five Saudi women have won seats on local municipal councils a day after women voted and ran in elections for the first time in the country's history.

According to initial results the five women hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia's second largest and most cosmopolitan city to a small village near Islam's holiest sites.

Though not many women are expected to win seats, even limited gains are seen as a step forward for women who had previously been completely shut out of elections.

Many women candidates ran on platforms that promised more nurseries to offer longer daycare hours for working mothers, the creation of youth centres with sports and cultural activities, improved roads, better rubbish collection and overall greener cities.

Around 7,000 candidates, among them 979 women, were competing for 2,100 seats across the country. The councils are the only government body elected by Saudi citizens. The two previous rounds of voting for the councils, in 2005 and 2011, were open to men only.

More than 1.35 million men had registered to vote this time around versus a little more than 130,000 female registered voters.

In Jiddah, three generations of women from the same family cast ballots for the first time.

The oldest woman in the family was 94 year-old Naela Mohammad Nasief. Her daughter, Sahar Hassan Nasief, said the experience marked "the beginning" of greater rights for women in Saudi Arabia, who are not allowed to drive and are governed by laws that give men the ultimate say over aspects of their lives like marriage, travel and higher education.

"I walked in and said 'I've have never seen this before. Only in the movies'," the daughter said, referring to the ballot box. "It was a thrilling experience."

Press Association

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