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Municipal elections mark historic first for Saudi women

In municipal elections last Saturday, Saudi women were allowed to vote for the first time. Female candidates also were on the ballot for the first time. (EPA/AHMED YOSRI /LANDOV)

Municipal elections held last Saturday will be remembered as a turning point for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Scott Simon and Rachel Martin report for NPR that the local polls were the first in which women were permitted to vote in the oil-rich state. The balloting also marks only the third time that any elections were held in the kingdom, ruled by a royal family. In another first, women were also among the candidates for office. 

Reporting from a polling station there, Martin emphasized that women still have a long way to go to achieve equality. With only 130,000 women registered to vote nationwide, female turnout was noticeably low, NPR reports. That’s due partly to lack of awareness about voting rights. It also stems from a perception that the election was meant to boost the nation’s image in the West — without effectuating substantive change.

In contention were seats on municipal councils that handle basic issues such as trash collection, street lights and sidewalk paving. While Saudi women will have a greater voice in those areas, they still face many prohibitions. For example, they are banned from driving and must be escorted by male guardians in public, the article says. 


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