First time in the history: Saudi women register to vote, contest poll

First time in the Kingdom’s history, dozens of women are expected to contest Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections.

Safinaz Abu al-Shamat and Jamal al-Saadi made history last Sunday by becoming the first Saudi women to register to vote. Shamat described it as a national duty for women to participate in the elections.

These will be the first polls since the 2011, the decision by late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to grant women the right to vote and run for office. After their lack of involvement in elections that year sparked online outrage. Then, he said the government “refused to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia”.

This long overdue move is welcome but it’s only a tiny fraction of what needs to be addressed over gender inequality in Saudi Arabia.

Some women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia say other issues are just as important as political participation, such as the ban on female drivers and the guardianship system, in which male relatives have legal control over many aspects of their female counterparts’ lives. Under the system, women are required to obtain their male guardian’s permission if they want to complete their university education, work, travel abroad, file a lawsuit in a court, and sometimes even to receive medical treatment.