Twenty-one women won seats in Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections, the country’s first-ever elections open to female voters and candidates. Around 900 women competed against 6,000 male candidates in the elections for 2,100 seats on 284 municipal councils, responsible for local affairs, including public gardens, sewerage and rubbish collection. Another 1,050 councillors will be appointed, with many expecting women among them.
The historic election took place on Saturday, December 12 with 130,000 women registered to vote, and 978 running as candidates. It is big news for Saudi women — a remarkable moment in a very conservative country where women are not allowed to drive and are subject to male guardianship laws. A total of 130,000 women were registered to vote, compared to 1.3 million men. The voter turn out was estimated at 47 per cent.
Two women activists were disqualified from running the race. They are Loujain Al-Hathloul, who has campaigned and been arrested for advocating for women to drive and Shia human rights activist Naseema Al-Sadah.
On Twitter, Al Hathloul demanded answers for why her candidacy was dropped. She went on saying:
ع كل السلبيات التي حصلت لي ولغيري في هذه الدورةالانتخابية إلا أني سعيدة بإنجازات نساءورجال بلدي. ألف مبروك لكل الفائزين وأتمنى لكم التوفيق.💛
— لجين هذلول الهذلول (@LoujainHathloul) December 13, 2015
Despite all the drawbacks that have happened to me and others in this election round, I am happy with the success of the men and women elected to the councils. Congratulations to all the winners and I wish you success
Banned from running the race, Al Sadah exercised her right to vote, encouraging other women to make their voices heard.
لحظة وضع ورقة التصويت بيد امرأة في صندوق الاقتراع لحظة تاريخية ، والمشاركة حق لا تتخلون عنه .#الانتخابات_البلدية pic.twitter.com/vMJLrmwmkc
— نسيمة السادة (@nasema33) December 12, 2015
That moment a woman casts her vote in a ballot box is an historic moment and don't ever give up on your right to vote and participate.
She also reminds Saudis:
#مفهوم_ديمقراطي الانتخابات قد لا تقدم الأفضل ولكنها تقدم من يحصل على الأصوات الأكثر . #الانتخابات_البلدية
— نسيمة السادة (@nasema33) December 12, 2015
Elections may not result in the best elected to office, but bring out those who get the most votes.
Despite the setbacks, women were ecstatic with the elections, with many sharing videos and photographs of themselves voting.
Activist Tamador Al-Yami shares this video after voting:
للتو انتهيت من التصويت لمرشحتي في #الانتخابات_البلدية وبالتوفيق لجميع المرشحات والمرشحين 😊 pic.twitter.com/NVcoV6Pd0q
— تماضر اليامي Tamador (@TamadorAlyami) December 12, 2015
In the video, she says:
“I have just completed voting and may the women candidates be successful and we see the biggest changes at their hands.”
Like many Saudi women, Al-Yami sees the landmark elections with a lot of hope, for improving the conditions of women in the Kingdom.
Now They Want More
The October 26 campaign, which had launched nation-wide campaigns for women to drive, hoped to take the elections as an opportunity to remind people of their demand which calls upon Saudi Arabia to lift the driving ban on women:
نبارك لنساء الوطن فوزهن في #الانتخابات_البلدية 🎉 ونستغل هذه الفرصة للتذكير بمطالبتنا برفع حظر القيادة عن النساء. pic.twitter.com/jmGEkwERyg
— حملة 26 أكتوبر (@oct26driving) December 14, 2015
“We congratulate the female winners and take this opportunity to remind people of our call for lifting the driving ban on women.”
And Abdulla Al-Alami wishes for more freedom for women in his country:
تعديل نظـام الأحوال المدنية لضمان حقوق المرأة، ودخول المرأة المجالس البلديـة الخطوة التاليـة: حريـة التنقل والسفر والعلاج والابتعاث والعمل
— عبدالله العلَمي (@AbdullaAlami) December 12, 2015
Changing the civil status code to guarantee the rights of women and allowing women into the municipal councils. The next step is giving women the freedom to move, travel, seek medical treatment, study abroad and work.
Hind Al-Zahed explains why people should vote for Saudi women:
صوتي للمرأه،فالمرأةفي بلدي لم تحصل على فرص متساويةمع الرجل وعليه سأدعم هذةالفرص حتى تتساوى و ثم يكون الاختيار للأكفأ https://t.co/YIDWs3bbTg
— هند الزاهد (@hindkz) December 13, 2015
My vote goes to the women. Women in my country did not get equal opportunities and this is why I will continue to support them until they become equal and then we can choose the better
And in two tweets, Albara Al-Auhali describes how the mood shifted in the conservative kingdom, allowing women to finally vote:
انتخابات ٢٠٠٥: تصويت المرأة منكر ولا أحد يتجرأ بالمطالبة به! ٢٠١١: الأمر يقبل الجدل لكنه مرفوض لدى الأغلب. ٢٠١٥: الأمر عادي بل هو حق للمرأة!
— البراء العوهلي (@al_bara) December 12, 2015
Many Saudi women left their homes today to take part in municipal council elections and it all seemed very normal. Only four years ago, we had heated debates regarding this issue.
2005 Elections: Women voting is banned and no one has the courage to even demand it!
2011 Elections: The issue is debated but refused by the majority
2015 Elections: The issue is not only normal but a woman's right!
In 2013, 30 Saudi women were appointed to the 150-member Shura or Consultative Council, an advisory board for the government. Many have praised such “baby steps” taken by the absolute monarchy, hoping more reforms.