Saudi Arabia: First Women Councillors Elected

Dec 13, 2015

Women have been elected to municipal councils in Saudi Arabia for the first time after a ban on women taking part in elections was lifted.
At least four women were elected, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. Other news agencies put the number between nine and 17.

Women were elected in Mecca, Jawf and Tabuk, SPA said.
The vote is being seen as a landmark in the conservative kingdom. However, the councils have limited powers.
Women also won in several other regions in the country, including Jeddah and Qatif, other reports suggested.
Saudi women still face many curbs in public life, including driving. A total of 978 women registered as candidates, alongside 5,938 men.

Officials said about 130,000 women had registered to vote in Saturday’s poll, compared with 1.35 million men.
The disparity was attributed by female voters to bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of transport, the AFP news agency says.

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26 comments on “Saudi Arabia: First Women Councillors Elected

  • Some will say that this is insignificant and flawed all around, but to the old school feminists such as myself, this is one baby step in the right direction. Enfranchisement of women is a foundation that we can really build on. Pushing women forward in education, financial independence, and into careers that include political positions clears the way for us to make changes on a societal level. This is the kind of change that is substantial and lasting.

    Congratulations to Saudi women today. This is a victory.

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  • Phil
    Very interesting article there. Some excellent perspective that I appreciate.

    Phil, what is that picture you’ve got there?

    Also, nothing I can put in front of you for proof but from social connections inside the kingdom, I predict that the driving thing will be solved next. Men in that country are reaching an aggravation level because they suffer from the situation too. There is a growing level of complaining going on there and I think it’s not well known on the outside.

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  • Is their vote on issues worth half that of a male councillor ? And the bill was passed by a slim margin of 72.5 votes for the Yes campaign to 71.5 votes for the No campaign. Sorted

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  • I swapped over my sign in to my private gmail/google account and lost my gravatar pic. Bit annoyed really. I didn’t want it here. Its me a long time ago as a petty criminal, Billy Fizz. Might replace it with one as Cagliostro.

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  • bonnie
    My long gone Grammy used to tell me (about men) “Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile!” This is now exactly what I hope the Saudi women will do. Take a damn mile – In a Mercedes sister! In a Mercedes! HAAA

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  • There seem to be a few key changes but with issues outstanding!

    Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Riyadh after the polls closed, described the elections as “momentous”.

    “People here are hoping this is a significant step on the paths towards having a more inclusive society, not only for women but also for youth because the voting age has been reduced from 21 to 18,” he said.

    A strict separation of the sexes in public facilities meant that female candidates could not directly meet the majority of voters – men – during their campaigns.

    Women also said voter registration had been hindered by bureaucratic obstacles, a lack of awareness of the process and its significance, and the fact that women could not drive themselves to sign up.

    Electioneering was low key, with rules preventing photographs of candidates applied to both men and women. But win or lose, the female contenders said they were already victorious.

    “We have legal controls, which forbid the publication of women’s photos – during elections and in all our work. And if women’s photos are not allowed, it would only be right, fair and equal to ban photos of all candidates”, Jadie al-Qahtani, the head of the election’s executive committee, said.

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  • They couldn’t, of course, drive themselves to the polling stations. Lots of opportunity to have their democratic rights thwarted there.

    One of the modernisers is the (ex third) wife of the chap Alan pointed out, 30 dollar billionare Al-Waleed bin Talal. He was a keen supporter of Ameera al-Taweel, once reporter then, philanthropist and business woman a seriously impressive (younger!) women. She it was who has been making a lot of noise about the need for women to be able to drive in Saudi, getting into the news about it a couple of years ago.

    The divorce was perhaps prompted by pressure brought by his brother. Talal intends that his money will go to charity like Gates and Buffett. Ameera figured in this in quite as proactive a way as Melinda.

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  • Where I live, we were the first state in the world to have universal suffrage. Late 1800’s. Just looked up the article. It seems the women on Pitcairn Island, had the vote from 1838. My state granted universal suffrage in 1894. I don’t know how this compares to Europe, but my recollection is that it was either my state, or New Zealand next door that holds this title. Here is the link LaurieB

    It’s 2015, and Saudi Women have just received the right to vote in local council elections. I endorse LaurieB’s sentiment. Baby steps. I suspect that a side effect of the internet is that everyone in the world knows what happens, generally, with everyone else. Knowledge sets you free.

    p.s. Phil. While I didn’t look too closely, I always thought your avatar was Steve Martin from Parenthood.

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  • Wouldn’t it be tragic (and perhaps ironic) if the newly elected women are even more repressive than their male predecessors? That can happen. This development is no doubt a good thing in itself (and I don’t mean that in the Kantian sense) but as they say: be careful what you wish for.
    I think this will open things up, but they need courageous and progressive and extraordinary women in municipal councils – not just women.
    Imagine if McCain had won and died. Guess who our president would be? That’s right. And she ain’t no man. —Women would probably lose the right to vote or god knows what. Palin would take us back to the year zero. That would be tragic and ironic.
    I hope my point is clear.

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  • (Cont.) The problem over there is structural. Change (in the form of greater equality) comes from the bottom up, as I said. Let the female citizens there revolt, like they have over here.
    Tell me: has any woman in politics ever done anything to help the feminist movement over here? Name a few. Not easy, is it? And I don’t mean now. There wouldn’t be any women in politics today if it wasn’t for mass action – in the past.
    (I have no idea what a municipal council is or does, and I was using broad strokes.)
    Phil, I miss your old photo. That guy looks like Michael J. Fox.)
    And yet, in order to revolt they have to be enlightened. So better education will lead to that. Maybe I am being too skeptical.

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  • Sorry if the above posts lack my usual precision and eloquence. I didn’t have time to edit them, went to look things up and ran out of time. I always post too soon. I post prematurely.

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  • One more:

    Do you (whoever’s reading) think this new development in Saudi Arabia where women can vote and have been elected to municipal councils is signifiant? I’d like to see an end to the inequality there but I have a low opinion of voting and elections.
    Doesn’t real change come from mass action and not from voting? Women in politics over there are probably just as repressive toward themselves.
    I am more skeptical and confused than pleased. I also don’t know very much about Saudi Arabia, frankly.
    But mass action requires education of the “masses.” Can this development lead to access to better education for women? And if women are already allowed to go to college and have access to the internet (so that they can check things) and can read books what is holding them back? Why don’t they just revolt en masse? Why do they choose to accept this slavish existence?

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  • I just talked to a close friend, a professor, and an expert on Saudi Arabia. He left me with the impression the situation over there is basically hopeless. There will never be any change over there. Forget it. Maybe in a thousand years (if we’re still around). And he knows whereof he speaks. Maybe he’s wrong, but that’s what this guy said. And he was very persuasive.

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  • It may be a small win perhaps – but one of the candidates was still wearing the full burka (I saw a picture in the Independent newspaper) – Women cannot drive or even leave a house unaccompanied. and most young girls are probably as brain-washed as the boys-are and conform to the 9th century bull-shit of the Qur’an.
    Bin that book pronto and they may yet be set free!

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  • Hi Dan,

    I really don’t blame you for being discouraged with this situation. I’m constantly beyond discouraged and solidly into the category of irate. I can hardly maintain a diplomatic posture with Muslim women when they indicate to me their unhappiness with their current situation. What I want to say is, “How the hell did you put up with this slavery? You don’t like it? Do something about it!” But I have a view of how boxed in they really are. When laws lock them into a life of reproductive and domestic slavery and their own families enforce those laws and their whole society judges them as good or bad in a system of strict dichotomy, then I see our voting Saudi women as extremely brave in relative terms. Braver than I’ve ever been, that’s for sure.

    It’s very tough to gauge the situation in these ultra-conservative societies. Families, clans and tribes wall themselves off from public view. Shame/honor based social systems sweep everything under the rug and cover up to the extent that all they have left is a Stepford Wives existence. Add in a totally government controlled press that filters everything as well. So how do we really know what men and women really think about their situation there? It’s so difficult to get a handle on this from the outside.

    When Americans or Europeans are aggravated about something they communicate this very directly. We can really blow off steam and like you said, we can make change from the bottom up. It feels really good to go to Washington D.C. and march around and rant to our hearts content. I have done this several times and will be at the Reason Rally next June to do so again. 🙂 I have seen some evidence of Saudi women protesting the driving ban by getting into their cars and driving anyway but I’m not sure what will happen if the protests become larger than that. I’m afraid of what will happen there but I also don’t see any other way to make progress either.

    I want those women to protest visibly. I want the Saudi men to support them. I want increasing pressure from the international community and I want the government leadership to ease into an acceptable level of change on a timeline that everyone can agree on because if they refuse to grant concessions then all hell could break loose like a dam bursting and then we will have a terrible problem with victims and suffering and that will really be on them. Why oh why do these idiots hang on to power until the whole thing crashes down around them? So many examples come to mind. Are they really as stupid as they appear to be?

    That’s how social progress has gone here in the West. We can do it nicely or we can do it the hard way. Perhaps this last election was the leadership’s way of testing the waters. Maybe they know they’re in trouble and opened a pressure valve just a teeney weeney bit.

    Hope you had a nice visit in Upstate. I’m off to visit my Dad in hospital for complication of diabetes. 🙁

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  • Thanks, Laurie, for reminding me how hard it really is to revolt and for change to come about.

    I wish my father was still around; he knew a lot about the history of social revolutions and how they are organized. I need to read more about this. I am not quite sure what it takes. I suppose in some instances, as you suggested, you don’t need violence or blood on the streets.—My assumption is that in most cases great sacrifices have to be made, and that much bravery will be required on the part of those who are oppressed, kept down. Perhaps they need leadership.

    In the US, as you know, we had the Occupy Wall Street movement. I was very excited by that (although to be honest I didn’t take part in it); perhaps what was missing was leadership; we needed someone like MLK – although there’ll never be another like him.

    I often imagine myself living in a totalitarian society, in a a repressive, nightmarish society where me and others have no rights. In my fantasy, I become a great leader and organizer who does all these great, heroic things. Not so easy in real life.

    I hope your father’s okay.


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  • I was going to ask what makes an entire country do this to women but I suppose if the country is run by pricks like these………(Don’t know if link will work outside UK?)(It is by no means all men by the way, even more bewildering is women doing this to women)

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