20 women elected to local government in historic step toward gender equality
Updated: 2015-12-15 08:05
A Saudi woman leaves a polling station after casting her vote during municipal elections, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 12, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
Saudi voters elected 20 women for local government seats, according to results released to The Associated Press on Sunday, a day after women voted and ran in elections for the first time in the country's history.
The women who won hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia's largest city to a small village near Islam's holiest site.
The 20 female candidates represent just 1 percent of the roughly 2,100 municipal council seats up for grabs, but even limited gains are seen as a step forward for women who had previously been completely shut out of elections. Women are still not allowed to drive and are governed by guardianship laws that give men final say over aspects of their lives like marriage, travel and higher education.
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.
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.
The conservative capital of Riyadh saw the most women candidates win, with four elected. The Eastern province, where minority Shiites are concentrated, saw two women elected, said Hamad Al-Omar, who heads the General Election Commission's media council.
Saudi Arabia's second largest and most cosmopolitan city, Jiddah, also elected two women, as did one of the most conservative regions, Qassim.
The mayor of the city of Mecca, Osama al-Bar, said a woman won in a village called Madrakah, about 150 kilometers north of the city which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba to which Muslims around the world pray.
Another woman won in Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad's first mosque was built.
Other women hailing from the kingdom's northernmost areas won, with two elected in Tabuk, one in al-Jawf and another in Hail. Additionally, a woman won in Saudi Arabia's southern border area of Jizan, another in Asir and two won in al-Ahsa.
Many women candidates ran on platforms that promised more nurseries to offer longer day care 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 October, the Saudi Gazette reported that 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.
(China Daily 12/15/2015 page11)