Saudi women allowed to vote for first time

Women in Saudi Arabia cannot go anywhere without a chaperone, drive a car or interact with men. Until yesterday, they were also not allowed to vote. But today, a historical change made them vote for the first time in local council elections and also stand as candidates.

About 130,000 women have registered to vote and a total of 978 women have registered as candidates.

Salma al-Rashed was the first woman to register to vote. “It felt really good,” she told BBC. “Change is a big word but the election is the way to make sure we are really represented.”

Female candidates were barred from speaking to male voters and required to segregate campaign offices, according to Human Rights Watch. Also, women have complained of difficulties proving identity and residency and a limited number of registration centres.

The late King Abdullah, who died in January, took the decision in 2011 to allow women to take part in the election and to have a bigger public role. However, if any win seats, their role will be limited to planning, development and local services.

Another surprising fact is that there were no elections in the 40 years between 1965 and 2005 in Saudi Arabia. Today is only the third time that Saudis vote.

“This is a young country. It may seem developed because of the oil money. But it’s really just finding its way,” architecture professor Haifa Alhababi, 37, told The Independent. “This election is another step – even if a baby step – for women. Don’t discount it.”

Cover photo credit: Reuters