The big, the small and the holy: Women elected in Saudi Arabia
It’s an important time in the history of womanhood in Saudi Arabia. On December 12, 2015, Saudi women voted for and contest the Municipal Council Elections. The first municipal elections were held in Saudi in 2005, after which. In 2013, 30 women were appointed by the king to the Shura Council, which is the highest advisory body to King Abdullah. Out of the 979 women who contested for the 2100 seats, a total of 20 women have been elected as members of the council, which is just 1 percent of the total number of seats. Although it is more than what everyone expected. Like Emirati political scientist, Abdelkhaleq Abdullah said to the Guardian, “It is a historic day. It will be enough even if one woman wins.”
4 women candidates got elected in the conservative capital of Riyadh. The minority Shiite dominated Eastern Province saw 2 women victories, as reported by General Election Commision’s media council, Hamad- Al- Omar to bigstory. Saudis second largest and most cosmopolitan city also saw the victory of two female candidates. Almost 150 kms off the holy city of Mecca, in a place called Madrakah, another female candidate won. Prophet Mohammed’s first mosque was built here. The northern and southern most tips will also see 2 women each on their councils.
Although the declaration of women’s right to vote was made by the King in 2011, this is the first time women in Saudi Arabia are actually going to cast votes. A total turnout of 1.48 million people was expected, as per estimates by Arab news. Eligibility criteria for candidature was a minimum of 25 years of age and high school completion.
Winning women include daughters and relatives of wealthy, influential businessmen with large extended families, which they acknowledge themselves, helped them win. One of the women voters, Nora Alkhaldi, 34, told thestar, “In Saudi Arabia, if your dad is well connected to the business world, many doors open for you — same goes if your dad is a tribal chief who has the loyalty of his people.” Well, that’s world culture, I believe. Meritocracy is a myth in modern times. Although that worked for the Saudi women.
Saudi is the same country where women are banned from driving. The culture of the country is still such that women rarely own property or pay their own bills. There is a system of male guardianship, where women need documented approval from men in their family (father or husband) to participate in any activity in the world outside their own home. This applies even to health procedures. Even in order to obtain an ID, a woman needs to produce certain documents for proof of residence, which are often in the name of the men in the family. Therefore, if a man wants, he can still control the woman’s access to exercising her right. The ministry is not doing anything for the effective implementation of this decision.
The journey to this day hasn’t been easy. Baladi Initiative, started by a group of women, advocated for greater role of women in the social sphere since 2010. There was also a stringent imposition of election rules, where women candidates could not address a candidate of the opposite sex directly, but only through a designated spokesperson. Election workshops organized by the the Baldani Initiative for election awareness amongst women were shut down in August, citing licensing issues. High expenses related to campaigning also made it difficult for many women to participate. Many women candidates were also disqualified without explanation, if they had women’s right to drive in their agenda.