Riyadh: Voters in Saudi Arabia elected 20 women for local government seats, according to election results after the momentous day when women were allowed to vote as well as contest in the polls for the first time in the history of the country.
Though the elected 20 form just one per cent of the estimated 2,100 contested seats in the municipal council, it is a huge step forward for a country where women still need permission from male guardians to work, travel, or enroll in school. Women are not even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
The only two former elections in 2005 and 2011 featured only male candidates campaigning for a mass of male voters. The municipal council, which is the only government body in Saudi where citizens elect the representatives, saw roughly 7000 prospective candidates for its positions, including 979 women.
There are no quotas in place for women candidates. However, 1,050 seats are appointed only on the king’s approval, which gives him the power to make sure that more women are represented.
The elected women come from various parts of the country, including the largest city, as well as a small village near Mecca.
Riyadh, Saudi’s conservative capital, saw four elected women – the highest from any region – while the Shiite concentrated Eastern Province had two elected women, said Hamad Al-Omar, who heads the media council of the General Election Commission.
Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, the most cosmopolitan Jeddah, along with the conservative city of Qassim, both saw two women elected.
Madrakah, a village situated about 150 kilometres north of Islam’s holiest site, also saw a woman elected, informed Mecca mayor Osama al-Bar to the AP.
Yet another woman won in Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad’s first mosque was built.
In the northernmost areas of the kingdom, two women were elected in Tabuk, and one each from Jawf and Hail. Jizan, on the southernmost border had one woman representative, neighbouring region Asir had another, and the eastern region of al-Ahsa had two.
Many of the women candidates ran on platforms promising overall greener cities with better garbage collection, improved roads, increased number of nurseries for working mothers which offer longer daycare hours, and the establishment community centers for the youth with sports and cultural activities.