Saudi women candidates register for historic elections

Women begin registering for the first time as candidates for the country's municipal elections to be held in December.

    This year, two-thirds of municipal council members will be elected and the rest appointed by the authorities [AP]
    This year, two-thirds of municipal council members will be elected and the rest appointed by the authorities [AP]

    Women in Saudi Arabia have for the first time been able to register as candidates for the country's municipal elections in December.

    In 2011, the same year as the most recent polls, the late King Abdullah granted women in the kingdom the right to vote and run as candidates, saying: "We refuse to marginalise women's role in Saudi society."

    According to local media, about 200 women have so far expressed an interest in running for office.

    Saudi women drive to defy ban

    Sofana Dahlan, a social entrepreneur from Jeddah, told Al Jazeera that she agreed that the change was a "paradigm shift," despite criticism locally by conservatives, who are against the move, and internationally by the media, who do not think the change is significant enough.

    "I think it's very significant but this will take time," Dahlan said.

    "People usually reject change in the beginning, but once it is embraced, and once it takes place and people start seeing the fruits of this, people will start to converting into accepting the idea."

    Earlier this month, in another first, Saudi women began registering to vote in the elections.

    According to the Saudi Gazette, a third of the 1,263 voting centres are being set aside for female voters.

    'Long overdue'

    In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, Amnesty International called Saudi Arabia's decision "long overdue," but added that it was only a fraction of what was needed to be addressed over gender inequality in the country.

    "Let's not forget that Saudi Arabian women won't actually be able to drive themselves to the voting booths as they're still completely banned from driving," the UK-based rights group said.

    The statement also pointed out that women in Saudi are still unable to travel, work, study or marry without the permission of a male guardian, adding that more reforms are needed.

    This year, two-thirds of municipal council members will be elected and the rest appointed by the authorities.

    In the last all-male vote in 2011, half of the members were elected.

    Candidate registration will run until September 17, while voter registration ends on September 14.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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