For The First Time In History, Women In Saudi Arabia Are Registering To Vote!


First up, this is awesome, historical news! But secondly, there are some important details we have to discuss so all our readers understand this fight for equality isn’t over just yet.

For the first time ever, women are registering to vote in Saudi Arabia. It is a major milestone in the battle for women’s rights, and it comes after the late King Abdullah approved the new rules back in 2011. In 2014 he first allowed women to be elected to the Shura Council.

Here is what we know about the new voting laws: women are being allowed to vote in the Municipal elections nationwide in December. It’s a start, but there are still many more voting barriers that need to be eliminated. The voting registration window is open for 21 days, and so far an estimated 70 women are looking to run as candidates, while another 80 have registered as campaign managers, reports Time magazine.

The first two women to register on Sunday, August 16th were Safinaz Abu al-Shamat and Jamal al-Saadi who registered in their electoral offices in Makkah and Madinah respectively. Here’s something interesting about the actual campaigns, neither the male or female candidates will be allowed to use pictures of themselves in campaign advertising, and on election day there will be separate polling booths for men and women.


As an aside, as we gear up for the 2016 Presidential elections here in the US, wouldn’t it be neat if campaign images were also banned here, and people voted simply on policies? Now there’s a thought…

While it is an important first step forward for women’s rights in the Saudi Kingdom, making good on the promises of the late King, there are still many barriers which could easily make this news seem redundant. For instance, women are still banned from driving, so that may cause an issue for many women to even get to polls to register and vote.

Women are not allowed to work or travel without accompaniment and permission of their husband, which again inhibits the ability of women in certain areas. Giving them an important voice in the political arena could be just the ticket to open the floodgates for more equal rights, as one political sociologist commented it is a sign of the modern voice of Saudi Arabia.

“I think there is the realization from different groups, including the conservative groups, that what happened in the past, where their voice was the only representative in society, would no longer continue,” said Fawzia Abu Khalid from King Saud University.

“The Shura women have added the women’s voices and representation to a high-level governmental council and opened the floor to discuss issues of concern to women – even if the political will didn’t choose to implement their recommendations and suggestions until now,” Hala al-Dosari, a Saudi writer and women’s rights activist, told Al Jazeera.


However a human rights activist says the municipal votes won’t count for much as these councils don’t have as much influence as other levels of government in the country.

If [the election] does take place, Saudi Arabian women will, for the first time, have gained suffrage. However, municipal councils and the Shura Council have limited powers, and currently there is no female minister in government,” said Rothna Begum, a Middle East women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch.

If the history of women gaining the right to vote elsewhere around the world is anything to go by, we should remain optimistic. And it is certainly not just women who have had to fight for equality when it comes to exercising voting power. Here in the United States African American people weren’t allowed to register to vote until 1965 during the Civil Rights movement when the Voting Rights Act was finally realized.

For women, the 19th Amendment which allowed them to vote came about in August 1920 after many years of women campaigning for this right.


In October (in the US) a powerful film called ‘Suffragette’ starring Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan will be released, documenting the struggle of British suffragettes who finally won the right for women to vote in 1918 for women over the age of 30. It wasn’t until 1928, a full decade later, that they British government removed the age qualification.

Fun Fact: New Zealand actually became the first country in the world allowing women to vote in 1893, with Australia following 9 years later.

In a statement following the news that Saudi Arabian women are being allowed to register for Municipal elections, Amnesty International praised the move but were cautious to point out the limitations still being placed on women.

“It is a welcome, albeit limited, step along the long road towards gender equality in Saudi Arabia, and a testament to the long struggle of women’s rights activists there,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The whole system of women’s subordination to men in Saudi Arabia needs to be dismantled. We can only hope that this announcement on voting will be the first in a long line of reforms that guarantee Saudi women the rights that they have been demanding for so long,” he added.

Come the December 12 elections, we may start to see some changes amongst Saudi municipalities, and we remain optimistic that this is just the start for women’s rights.


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