Saudi Arabia Allows Women to Run in Local Elections

August 30, 2015  

Saudi Arabia allowed women to register to stand in local elections on Sunday, a historic first for the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, AFP reports.

In a country where women face a host of restrictions, including a driving ban, the move was welcomed as an important step forward.

At the same time, noted AFP, it also faced criticism from hardline conservatives and rights groups who said it does not go far enough in providing women with equal rights.

The moves comes after another first earlier this month, when women started to register as voters for the December local elections at centers run by all-female staff, separate from registration facilities for Saudi males.

Women in the oil-rich Gulf state, which applies a strict segregation of the sexes, are banned from driving and have to cover themselves in public from head to toe.

They also have to obtain the consent of a male guardian to travel, work, apply for a passport or to marry.

The driving ban is perhaps the most notorious. Activists have launched a campaign against the ban and have encouraged women to post pictures of themselves driving on Twitter under the hashtag #IWillDriveMyself, as well as on Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp.

Many women have driven since the campaign was launched in 2011, some of them have posted videos of them doing so, and many have been arrested and forced to sign a pledge that they will never drive again.

In recent years there have been several minor examples of women receiving more rights: For example, last year it was announced that the Saudi Gazette had appointed a female editor, a first in the kingdom. The news of the first female newspaper editor in the kingdom followed an announcement about the first female lawyer in Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, a study in November 2013 found Saudi Arabia has the third worst women’s rights in the Arab world.

Despite all this, Saudi Arabia won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, along with other countries with questionable human rights records, including China, Russia, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam.

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