In 2011, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the late King of Saudi Arabia, granted women the right to vote. At the time, women questioned whether they would be able to campaign for seats in local municipal councils. Fast-forward three years to the best news I’ve heard all weekend—Saudi Arabian women voted for the first time on Saturday, December 12th.
This a huge step forward for gender equality in a country where women require a man’s permission to obtain a higher education, marry, open a bank account or apply for a passport.
130,000 women registered to vote. They were still outnumbered by the 1.5 million male voters, but that's a big upgrade from the previous election.
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic monarchy so the King (currently King Salman) holds power over military and government decisions, and appoints a large portion of council seats. But some local municipal council seats are open for Saudi Arabia’s citizens to campaign and run for. Local municipal council seats that set local budgets, among other tasks, are open for election. On Saturday’s election, 980 women ran for office.
While a woman was allowed to run for a local municipal council seat in addition to voting, a man was required to promote her campaign from behind a partition and give speeches on her behalf when addressing male voters. Women could only address other women.
This is still great progress considering several years ago women were not sure if they would be able to run in this election. And also when you think about the fact that elections are still new to Saudi Arabia—no elections took place in the last 40 years between 1965 and 2005 and only three occurred since then including the election on Saturday. So, women being included in the voting process is a big deal.
Local Election Day in Saudi. Big smiles from women who can vote for the first time. pic.twitter.com/OIltlWyGvE— Rachel Martin (@rachelnpr) December 12, 2015
Some women still have frustrations, such as Nassima al-Sadah, and Loujain Hathloul who were disqualified from running. They both supported the right for women to drive in the country, which is the suspected reason for their disqualification.
But at least 19 women (and counting) have been elected to local municipal seats in the election.
This moves the country toward equality. And it’s clearly empowering.
Giving women more decision-making power around the world is essential to beating poverty. Women are more likely to invest in communities through their economic choices. Plus, it’s time all women have equal rights #BecauseIts2015.
You can spread awareness of the importance of empowering women by going to TAKE ACTION NOW and making sure women's equality is always on the agenda for world leaders.