There’s still a long way to go but there’s been a small win for women today! For the first time, it’s been announced that women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to vote and run for office in the municipal elections, taking place in December this year. Among other tasks, municipal councils run a municipality’s budget, set taxes and oversee local financial transactions. It was a rule approved by the late King Abdullah in 2011, and is being put into effect now.
According to Arab News, ‘The number of women intending to nominate themselves for the elections has increased to 70. They include businesswomen and others involved in social and community services in Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and Tabuk, in addition to more than 80 who registered themselves as campaign managers.’
And, in order to make sure women are prepared and have access to the same knowledge as men in the area, there will be a series of awareness seminars and workshops for female voters this month, focusing on ‘urging all Saudi women to participate and exercise their right as citizens and voters in the election,’ said Naila Attar, an activist and coordinator of the Baladi Initiative. They’ll also offer a training course to ‘boost the capabilities of candidates and train them about selecting the electoral message,’ and gaining more votes.
Fawzia Abu Khalid, a political sociologist at King Saud University in Riyadh, told Al Jazeera that there has been a realisation from many groups in Saudi Arabia, that only having their own voice in society ‘would no longer continue’.
Of course, there are doubts about how much change this will truly bring, as the municipal councils have limited powers. And there are no females in the Saudi national government. Many are calling this move ‘long overdue’.
While that is true, and there is a still a long way to go for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, we can only hope this move will be the first of many on the way to giving Saudi women the rights they deserve. Baby steps.