Saudi women vote and get elected for the first time in country’s history

A Saudi woman casts her ballot at a polling center during municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)

A Saudi woman casts her ballot at a polling center during municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)

Saudi voters elected 20 women for local government seats, according to results released on Sunday by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, a day after women voted and ran in elections for the first time in the country’s history.

The 20 female candidates come from different parts of the country and they represent one percent of the 2,100 municipal council seats. A number of women said that even though their gains are limited but they’re still a step forward for women who had previously been completely shut out of elections.

Though there are no quotas for female council members, an additional 1,050 seats are appointed with approval by the king who could use his powers to ensure more women are represented, according to SPA.

Around 7,000 candidates, among them 979 women, competed in the election for a seat on the municipal councils, which are the only government body elected by Saudi citizens. The two previous rounds of voting for the councils, in 2005 and 2011, were open to men only as voters and candidates.

The conservative capital of Riyadh saw the most women candidates win, with four elected. The Eastern Province, where minority Shiia are concentrated, saw two women elected, said Hamad Al-Omar, who heads the General Election Commission’s media council to local media. Saudi Arabia’s second largest and most cosmopolitan city, Jiddah, also elected two women, as did one of the most conservative regions, Qassim, among other areas, according to AlArabyy AlJadeed.

Many women candidates ran on platforms that promised more nurseries to offer longer daycare hours for working mothers, the creation of youth community centers with sports and cultural activities, improved roads, better garbage collection and overall greener cities. In response to reports similar to the Saudi Gazette’s report about how harsh road conditions and long distances to the nearest hospital had forced some women in the village of Madrakah, where one female candidate was elected, to give birth in cars.

Some of the winners, Khadraa Al-Mubarak, Mashael Al-Sahly, and Masoma Abd Rab El-Reda, said that their plan is to turn their environments 180 degrees around.

One of the voters Sara Ahmed, a 30-year-old medicine specialist, told Al-Wafd newspaper on the day of elections in Riyadh, “This is a big achievement for a first step, as now we feel like a part of the country. We keep talking of this historical day everyday.”

Of course women’s participation was met with discrimination and refusal, according to Alarabiya, a lot of religious police forces were seen handing out pamphlets that accuse anyone who votes for women in elections as a sinner.

The decision to allow women to take part was taken by the late King Abdullah and is seen as a key part of his legacy, as he said that women in Saudi Arabia “have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice”. Before he died in January, he appointed 30 women to the country’s top advisory Shura Council.

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