Saudi women: candidates and voters

The importance of this move is that women have now crossed the starting line in the their empowerment

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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One-third of the polling stations in Saudi Arabia’s upcoming municipal elections are now dedicated for women. The polls also mark the first time that women can run as candidates.

The move to allow women to participate in the polls has been controversial in the kingdom. Those who believe in its importance have even thought that it was far-fetched, until King Salman showed his support.


Electoral districts have started to register women as voters and candidates are competing with men. There is no doubt that this is a historic decision at a difficult time.

Yet women’s participation in local elections may not be effective for the next three sessions. It might not be effective before 12 years and perhaps more than that.

However, the importance of this move is that women have now crossed the starting line in the their empowerment, which would eventually lead them to have an active role in a community of which they make up half. This is why news about their weak participation in the elections must not distort the perception of this real and historic development.

Important message

Having women candidates is an important message to the community. It shows that the state cares about women’s participation and the empowerment of their rights. The path is rough and complex due to social conditions in the kingdom. It has not been easy at all - and it is still very difficult.

The importance of this move is that women have now crossed the starting line in the their empowerment

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Ever since the sixties, every official decision has raised some difficult dilemmas, but in the end, conservative society approved the decisions: from girls’ education, gender-segregated universities, women’s employment, women entering the medicine and nursing field, national identity cards for women, to their scholarship programs to study in the West, the allocation of 20 percent of Shura Council seats just for them, and then allowing them to participate in the municipal polls.

Now they went a step further by allowing women to run as candidates and vote at the upcoming municipality elections.

Not easy

The problem arousing from such important decisions is that it needs to be imposed on the ground, which is not an easy task. They should convince women to be candidates and persuade men to work with women in the councils.

Before all that, women should be encouraged to go to the polling stations. It maybe won’t work at first, as was the case in a number of neighboring Gulf countries. Nevertheless, the success of women’s integration and participation should not be measured by how many participate at this stage. Rather, it should be distinguished by their rights, and then after a decade or two, we would be able to see the difference.

The political messages behind this step are much more important than how many women take part. This step shows without any doubt that women were granted confidence and this underlines their support. However, at the end, women will decide if they participate or not.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 27, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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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