Saudi Arabia Just Elected Women to Government Positions for the First Time Ever

Saudi Arabia Just Elected Women to Government Positions for the First Time Ever
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Over the weekend, voters in Saudi Arabia elected 20 women to seats in the country's local government. The election marked the first time women have been allowed to stand for elections in the conservative Islamic nation, according to the Associated Press

The races for 2,100 local municipal council seats brought out 7,000 candidates, of which 979 were women.

While successful female candidates could be found around the country, the lion's share of winners tended to be clustered in the nation's more cosmopolitan cities, with the most — four — coming from the capital Riyadh. In addition, two candidates came from Jeddah, another two from Qassim, two from the northwestern city of Tabuk and two from the desert-swept Eastern Province, according to results provided to the newswire. The mayor of Mecca, which is the heart of Saudi Arabia's hyper-conservative brand of Islam, told the AP that a woman also won a seat in a nearby city. 

"We need to change the way people think about women," Nassima al-Sada, an activist from the Eastern Province, told the Guardian as the elections approached. "If we want to improve things in this country we need men and women at all levels of decision-making."

Source: Getty Images

Many of the winning female candidates ran on issues that echoed municipal-level concerns of Western politicians including building more nurseries, extending daycare hours and upgrading municipal services.   

Despite the progress, the kingdom on the whole remains a hostile place for women, which, says Al-Jazeera, is the last country to give women the right to vote. Women are forbidden by custom from driving, cannot leave their homes without a male "guardian" and are required to follow a dress code that typically entails a head-to-toe black cloak called an abaya.   

"If we want to improve things in this country we need men and women at all levels of decision-making."

Notably, the elections were only for local positions. More meaningful posts with larger jurisdictions — like provincial governorships — are typically held by male members of the country's ruling Al Saud family. Without democratic input, the country's legal system has taken on a strict and draconian interpretation of Islamic law. Punishments for various crimes, in some cases behavior that would be completely normal in the West, may be met with flogging, amputation and death. Under Saudi Arabia's new King Salman, capital punishments have increased so much that the country issued a job posting seeking qualified executioners.

While Saturday's elections are a major milestone for women, and democracy as a whole in the country, it remains to be seen whether their participation will meaningfully change the status of women within the country's social, political and legal systems.

Source: Getty Images

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Jon Levine

Jon Levine is a staff writer at Mic, covering politics and people. He is based in New York and can be reached at JLevine@mic.com.

MORE FROM

20 attorneys general write letter urging Betsy DeVos to keep sexual assault protections

The attorneys general reminded DeVos that scrapping Title IX guidance will have a chilling effect on sexual assault and rape reporting rates.

New study suggests high workloads and aging doctor population means looming OB-GYN shortage

Obstetricians and gynecologists are overworked at nearing retirement age — without a younger contingent to replace them.

Why pro-life doctors want the First Amendment to protect their right to lie to patients

Crisis pregnancy centers believe they should be exempt from a law saying they should inform patients about all their medical options, including abortions.

‘Brown Girls’ wants to tell women of color’s stories in all their messy, complicated glory

Creators Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey want to let their characters break free of the neat identity categories people are wont to place them in.

One woman living in R Kelly’s alleged “sex cult” says everything is fine. That doesn’t mean it is.

Jocelyn Savage says she's "happy" and "totally fine" in her arrangement with R. Kelly. Experts say that's common behavior among abuse survivors.

Black women warned us about R Kelly's behavior for years. Was nobody listening?

Black women and girls have been telling people for years about the singer's behavior. And yet too few people have deigned to listen.

20 attorneys general write letter urging Betsy DeVos to keep sexual assault protections

The attorneys general reminded DeVos that scrapping Title IX guidance will have a chilling effect on sexual assault and rape reporting rates.

New study suggests high workloads and aging doctor population means looming OB-GYN shortage

Obstetricians and gynecologists are overworked at nearing retirement age — without a younger contingent to replace them.

Why pro-life doctors want the First Amendment to protect their right to lie to patients

Crisis pregnancy centers believe they should be exempt from a law saying they should inform patients about all their medical options, including abortions.

‘Brown Girls’ wants to tell women of color’s stories in all their messy, complicated glory

Creators Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey want to let their characters break free of the neat identity categories people are wont to place them in.

One woman living in R Kelly’s alleged “sex cult” says everything is fine. That doesn’t mean it is.

Jocelyn Savage says she's "happy" and "totally fine" in her arrangement with R. Kelly. Experts say that's common behavior among abuse survivors.

Black women warned us about R Kelly's behavior for years. Was nobody listening?

Black women and girls have been telling people for years about the singer's behavior. And yet too few people have deigned to listen.