In a historic move that could pave way for the real empowerment of women in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has today witnessed the electoral participation of women in the civic polls. This is the first time in the history of the monarchy that women contested as well as voted in the process. Though the number of female candidates accounts for only 16%, with 978 of them against 5938 men, and the number of women voters just one tenth of men, the whole event is looked upon with optimism across the world.
In the country where women are mandated to seek the permission of men for studying, working or even accessing health care facilities, and where they are not allowed to drive, this voting could prove to be a life changing experience for many. Meanwhile, the rigidity in the regime’s stand was visible with women candidates not allowed to talk to men or to talk behind the screen in case of public speeches. The upper hand of the administrators was also evident from the way many of the female candidates being disqualified from contesting, without any valid reason or explanation.
The registration process too was cumbersome with many a woman needed a male guardian to bring them for the process. Even after doing so, many women still couldn’t pass through the loop.
According to Hana Al-Zuhair, the head of the Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Fund for Women’s Development, “This is a great learning experience for us. The fact that more than 900 women candidates are contesting is proof that women are excited and optimistic”.
It is however suspected that even if women win some of the seats, their role will be limited to planning, development and social services. This is despite the fact that women account for 16% of the work force.