MIDDLE EAST

Why Saudi women’s participation in elections gets my vote

Saudi women are entering a new era of public participation. Municipal elections will be held across the country in December this year. Registration for voting has begun and the government awareness campaign to support the participation of women is gaining momentum. The government should be commended for its full support and its nationwide campaign to ensure the participation of women in the upcoming municipal elections.

The concept of voting and standing for election is new to the Kingdom. Training sessions for voter education have been organized by the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs across the Kingdom to promote the election process and to raise awareness among women about the great significance of their participation in municipal elections. One hundred and fifty women trainers have been mobilized to educate women about the electoral process not only in major cities but nationwide. In Riyadh alone, 85 election centers have been set up for women candidates and voters, with 10 on standby for emergency purposes.

Finally the time has come for Saudi women to be part of the political process. As elected representatives they can now have a say in shaping public policy.

Samar Fatany

Equal footing

Meanwhile, to confront the hardliners who are against the move, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has urged imams to inform the public about the importance of participating in the polls and to defy the anti-women participation campaign that is being promoted by hardliners in society.

Finally the time has come for Saudi women to be part of the political process. As elected representatives they can now have a say in shaping public policy. According to the women’s department of the Riyadh secretariat, there are no seat quotas on councils for either women or men; whoever gets the most votes will win the seat.

The concept of involving all members of society in nation-building efforts could influence change and accelerate reforms. The participation of women in municipal elections on an equal footing with men can have a great impact on the country’s future. Women represent half of society, and they have been contributing in most sectors. They continue to play an effective role in nation-building.

A golden opportunity

Professional and educated women are keen to vote and be part of the decision making process. However, some women may not realize that if they do not vote, they will not have a say and they will remain marginalized. Nothing will improve and they will lose a golden opportunity to make a difference if they decide to stay home and moan their fate.

Women voters feel elated registering to vote for the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia. They will not need a male guardian’s approval to run for office or to vote. Indeed, the change signifies a step forward in easing the government’s restrictions on women.

The awareness campaigns launched nationwide have encouraged many to participate. Voters are now learning how the elections are run, and are beginning to have an understanding of the whole process of registration, campaigning, voting and the announcement of results. They are now ready with their IDs and identification documents to enter polling booths. They will be presented with a list of impressive and capable candidates and each person will be allowed to vote once.

Executive powers

It is also refreshing to note that the new municipal councils will have executive powers. The new regulations include radical amendments, such as prohibiting the adoption of a budget of any municipality before the approval of the municipal councils. The council’s new executive powers will include the adoption of plans and programs for municipal projects approved in the budget, adoption of municipality budgets, as well as overseeing implementation of operation and maintenance projects, and monitoring the performance of municipalities and their services.

Women on municipal councils can be more effective in addressing the needs of their districts. They can contribute with better detailed plans to create a safe and healthy environment. Women will represent all the concerned mothers who are eager to implement much needed safety measures and recreational facilities for their children. Issues related to safe roads, clean water, better houses and a beautiful landscape are part of a woman’s domain. Her surroundings are an extension of her home and as a woman she is more experienced in running the household and, therefore, hopefully she will be more capable of addressing major public needs and monitoring the implementation of public services that include, electricity delivery, water for household use and sewage and sanitation.

This development will usher in an era of moderation and an end to extremism and discrimination against women in our own society.

Samar Fatany

Saudi women have every reason to rejoice over their participation in the municipal elections. This development will usher in an era of moderation and an end to extremism and discrimination against women in our own society. It is a vital step toward recognizing the role of women in society and their inclusion in public life.

Hopefully, this municipal election that has been organized and supported by the government will provide a more positive direction in our community. It is time we raise awareness among citizens about their duties toward their community and inspire members of the community to be more involved in decisions that affect their lives.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on September 12, 2015.

_________

Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”

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Last Update: Sunday, 13 September 2015 KSA 14:11 - GMT 11:11
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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