The electoral turnout was around 47% in the first women open section.
989 women amid the 6917 candidates were present at the elections.
Voter turnout among women was exceptionally high considering that photographs of candidates – both male and female – were banned.
Campaign appearances by women mean speaking from behind a partition, having male relatives or colleagues represent them or snapchatting and tweeting to their constituents.
At least 20 Saudi women emerged victorious in this historic local elections in which females in this religiously conservative kingdom were allowed to cast votes and run for office for the first time.
Still, local and international rights activists praised the tally as a victory for women in a fundamentalist Muslim country where they face many restrictions.
Nearly 81% of 130,000 female registered voters cast ballots, said General Election Commission spokesman Hamad Al-Omar.
“I think it’s fantastic”,
said Hamad Al-Omar, who pointed out that the turnout among Saudi women was higher than in many elections in Western countries.
(By comparison, just 10% of eligible voters participated in the March 3 municipal election in Los Angeles.)
Municipal council members do not hold much power in Saudi Arabia, where all major decisions are made by King Salman and his handpicked cabinet.
The councils oversee local issues, including budgets for the upkeep of public facilities.
Many female activists held the elections up as an important opportunity to be heard in a country where women remain banned from driving and subject to strict male guardianship laws.
Local elections were opened to women at the decree of the late King Abdullah, who oversaw other reforms welcomed by women’s rights activists, including the appointment of women to a national advisory council and allowing women to work in an expanded number of professions.
Historic turning point in Saudi Arabia: modernize the social and political aspects of Saudi society
Saudi women still encounter many obstacles.
Let’s go through some of them.
Saudi woman can’t marry without approval of a male guardian. A guardian is a man who can prove a familial relation to the woman—usually a father, brother or husband. They also can’t make a unilateral decision to divorce. According to Human Rights Watch, this system of male guardianship over women is derived from a verse in the Quran. But interpretation of the verse varies among Islamic scholars.
Enroll in a university
Saudi women can’t enroll in a university without the approval of a male guardian. The guardian’s approval is also needed to qualify to study abroad on a government scholarship.
Obtain a passport, travel abroad
Saudi women can’t obtain a passport or travel abroad without the approval of a male guardian.
Despite being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Saudi Arabia has not adopted clauses that contradict with what it calls the “norms of Islamic law.”
Visit a male doctor
Saudi women can’t visit a male doctor without a male relative present, except in the case of an emergency.
This rule was decreed by fatwa in 2014. Fatwas are meant to guide Muslims on religious matters and are issued by Islamic scholars and muftis, based on their interpretation of Islamic law.
While there’s no law that prohibits Saudi women from driving, the government won’t grant women driver’s licenses.
In recent years, some Saudi women have protested the ban and managed to gain support.
But progress hasn’t been forthcoming: in February, two women were arrested and detained for 72 days for challenging it.