Women Can Vote in Saudi Arabia’s Elections

For the first time, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to vote and run for office come December 2015.


The ground-breaking policy is being put into effect, in accordance with a policy developed under Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in 2011. King Abdullah had also granted women some opportunities for political participation. According to the State Department, in 2013, Abdullah issued a royal decree requiring the royally appointed body--Consultative Council to be made up of at least 20% women.

According to Arab News, about 70 women are seeking to run as candidates--nominating themselves--in the municipal elections. These women are from a variety of backgrounds including business and social service.  Additionally, more than 80 women have registered themselves as campaign managers.

Women’s duties, while serving on the Municipal Councils, will include, but are not limited to, the preparation of a municipality’s budget, setting taxes, and supervising local financial transactions.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Fawzia Abu Khalid, a political sociologist at King Saud University in Riyadh believes the decision showcases a broader shift in Saudi Arabia’s stance on women’s rights.

“I think there is the realization from different groups, including the conservative groups, that what happened in the past, where their voice was the only representative in society, would no longer continue,” she said.

Yet, some critics believe the change will do little to bring real change to the nation, where women’s activities are still highly restricted. The municipal councils have limited power and the Saudi national government remains without a single female minister.

Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch stated, "While it's a sign of progress, allowing women to stand and vote in elections -- and then only municipal elections -- is not enough to secure women's full integration into Saudi public life.”

Since the 1930s, a strict, Salafi interpretation of Islam has dominated the nation, as the official religion. Based on this interpretation of the ideology, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia implements an informally established guardianship system over women. This system prevents women from traveling or attending school without a male guardian, as well as driving.

After King Abdullah’s decision in 2011, Amnesty International released a statement calling the granting of women the right to vote “much overdue,” but also that it “does not go nearly far enough.”

“We can only hope that this announcement on voting will be the first in a long line of reforms that guarantee Saudi women the rights that they have been demanding for so long,” Amnesty said.

On the upside, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to vote on leaders and create laws!