Saudi Women Vote—and Win— for First Time

At least 5 win council seats in historic election
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 13, 2015 8:35 AM CST
Updated Dec 13, 2015 9:22 AM CST
A Saudi woman waits outside a polling center as she prepares to cast her ballot during the country's municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.   (Khalid Mohammed)
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(Newser) – At least five Saudi women have won seats on local municipal councils a day after women voted and ran in elections for the first time in the country's history, according to initial results Sunday. The women hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia's second largest and most cosmopolitan city to a small village near Islam's holiest site. Even limited gains are seen as a step forward for women who had previously been completely shut out of elections. Among winners:

  • Salma al-Oteibi won in the village of Madrakah, some 90 miles north of Mecca.
  • Lama al-Suleiman won a seat in the second-largest city of Jiddah.
  • The official Saudi Press Agency reported that female candidate Hinuwf al-Hazmi won along with 13 men in the northern district of al-Jawf. Mona el-Emery and Fadhila al-Attawy won in the northwestern region of Tabuk.

Many women candidates ran on platforms offering longer daycare hours for working mothers, youth centers, improved roads, better garbage collection, and greener cities. In October, the Saudi Gazette reported that harsh road conditions and long distances to the nearest hospital had forced some women in Madrakah, where al-Oteibi was elected, to give birth in cars. Around 7,000 candidates, among them 979 women, were competing for 2,100 seats nationally. More than 1.35 million men had registered to vote this time around versus a little more than 130,000 women. "I walked in and said 'I've have never seen this before. Only in the movies'," said one woman who was among three generations in her family voting for the first time, referring to the ballot box. "It was a thrilling experience."

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