For the first time since the entry of Saudi women into the elections campaign scene in 2011, this year the Saudi women are not just candidates in the Municipal Council, but they are voting citizens as well.
So, this is the first time women are allowed to vote and contest polls in the Kingdom. Around 865 women are among 6,140 Saudis standing in the local elections due to be held on December 12.
The participation of women in the polls was announced and decreed by former King Abdullah in 2011.
He also ordered that 20 per cent members of the Kingdom’s Shura Council to be females.
The country’s first municipal elections were held in 2005, followed by another in 2011. In both cases, only men were allowed to participate.
DT News interviewed several women Arab nationals and residents on the matter of women entering the voting process for the first time in the Kingdom of Saudi.
Wajeeha Al Baharna, president of Bahrain Women’s Association for Human Development, said: “I think this is a historical moment as this is the first time women get to be voters. I wish candidates all the best as it is not easy because many major groups do not favour this forward movement in this situation. Another point of worry is that fathers, uncles, influential males of the society could influence voters, especially in groups of families, not to vote women as they view it as a threat to the candidates.”
“I know some of these candidates and it is a very important step for women to be part of the Shura Council and the Municipality Council. Even if the numbers are few I will still look at it positively as these women have gone through the process of training to face the elections,” she added.
Wajeeha Al Baharna confirmed that three women from the candidacy have approached the BWA to help them with experience and training.
“The moment King Abdullah gave the green light, they started working very hard and seriously with workshops and seminars. These women are ready to forget their differences for the sake of a common goal.”
Rehab Al Haddad, another Bahraini national and a social expert from the Society of Sociologists, said: “The 2015 election is a successful step to give women their right in being elected after several movements for change. For the first time in the elections, women have joined after being sidelined by men. It was a unique experiment for its kind to have women, around 900, from a total of 7,200 candidates.”
“On Saudi women being part of the councils, I think it will help encourage cultural changing movements in a conservative society especially since now we’ve been seeing female CEOs and business leaders who even own their own business. As for the electoral process, we find that there are men working for the electoral campaigns of female candidates, which is a good indicator for progress. It is also an important national element and a strategic partner in building the local community in its social, economic, educational and service fields,” she added.
Saudi national Raneen Bukhari, an artist, expressed her opinion: “I am not voting. My opinion is very biased and does not represent the majority. I am very happy and appreciative that this initiative has begun and I really respect the women running in the elections and going through this major hassle to be nominated. I respect all the women that went through the painstaking process of registering to vote. I just am not interested in the bureaucracy of it all. The thing people do not understand is that these candidates we are voting for will be representative of the neighbourhood and will go to the municipality to ask for specific things for the area. “
“It’s not a position of change or power. It is a big PR buzz for Saudi Arabia giving women some kind of authority. In one way it’s at least some step, in another it’s nothing close to what we ask for. The right to travel, the right to move, the right to renew our own passport, the right to be present at our divorce, the right to represent ourselves in government discussions,” she commented.
Ayah Al Jarhi, resident and Egyptian national, who works at the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance, said: “How do I feel? It’s about time! I am so excited, anxious, doubtful all at once. I am excited because women in Saudi will finally have a role in society but anxious and doubtful because we are almost at the end of 2015 and the Saudi government has just “up and decided” to give women a shot?
“If it has taken such a long time to even consider women playing a huge part in a political aspect, I wonder how long it will take for them to be acceptable. I also wonder how are women going to participate politically. Are they given complete freedom or will they be limited with what they have (just like everything else). I have a huge feeling that even though women are finally given a great opportunity, they will still face huge difficulty and bias. I hope I am proven wrong and I hope that this opens doors to women finally getting their basic human rights in the country.”
Photo Caption: Ayah Al Jarhi, Rehab Al Haddad and Wajeeha Al Baharna