Challenges facing Saudi women’s first year at municipal council
Some 20 women are now participating in Municipal Council deliberations at different regions in Saudi Arabia
Saudi women were waiting for December 2015 to enter for the first time the Municipal Council. Some 20 women are now participating in Municipal Council deliberations at different regions in Saudi Arabia while the total number of Municipal Council members exceeds 3,150. Though the women seats are yet few, their participation has come after a long journey, activists said.
Rasha Hifzi, an elected female in Jeddah Municipal Council, noted in her talk to Saudi Gazette that they had to make a way through to the council despite the intense competition. Now, however, they are hoping to find a common ground with the 30 members who share different ideologies and are coming from different backgrounds.
The Jeddah Municipal Council, she added, is now working on a four-year strategic plan that will develop the council and its works. Among the tough challenges that they face is that they are not a legislative body but they can only supervise other government bodies to meet the expectations of the public. Their supervision might not be welcomed by some government bodies and therefore they have to work towards forming a cohesive work partnership with government bodies.
She added that they have proposed an idea by which they want to expose and air live whatever that goes inside the council. This idea is still being opposed by some members, who believe that what goes in the council should remain in the council. Some other members are also opposing the notion that women should sit with them on the same table while addressing various issues. “Our primary concern is to involve the public even more and allow them to be partners with the council.”
The presence of women in Municipal Councils is the result of a long journey, said Hatoun Al-Fassi the general coordinator of Baladi Campaign in Riyadh that first called for women participation in the Municipal Council vote. The journey, she said, started in 2004 when women demanded participation in the municipal elections, in 2011 women celebrated the royal decree in their favor and in 2015the dream came true.
The participation of women in the Municipal Council is a positive move said Al-Fassi while noting, however, that they are not satisfied with the end results. “There are efforts to discourage women and there is a lack of awareness about the importance of women participation,” she said, adding that men have more experience compared to women as men have previous experience in Municipal Council elections which ran for two terms without women participation.
She added that there are some instances like the segregation of women in Jeddah Municipal Council that attempts to “marginalize women’s aims and of forcing the experience to fail.”
According to her women are still participating in low numbers, which she said is not sufficient to make a change. “Let’s be optimistic and hope that more women will be included in the future,” said Al-Fassi.
This article first appeared in the Saudi Gazette on March 8, 2016.