In an historic move, Saudi Arabia will let women participate in the upcoming municipal elections after decades of denying them the right to vote or run as candidates.
When the news first broke in August, it was seen as one step forward for women's rights and freedoms in the ultra-conservative monarchy.
And maybe it is.
However, female candidates are still subject to several absurd restrictions that make one wonder if it’s all for show.
For instance, all 366 female contenders have reportedly been “warned” against addressing voters directly due to strict gender segregation laws of the conservative Gulf kingdom.
Now, how do Saudi authorities expect candidates to run a successful election campaign without even meeting the very people they want to serve?
The answer: get a representative. Authorities apparently told the women electioneers to “appoint agents” to speak on their behalf. Moreover, officials have also directed these candidates to create separate sections for men and women at their campaign headquarters. Anyone found guilty of violating this rule will be fined SR 10,000 (US$2,666).
And it doesn’t end here.
Judiea Al-Qahtani, the election commission spokesman, has also urged female hopefuls to avoid publishing their photos in any election campaign material.
With so many constraints hanging over their heads, only time will tell whether Saudi women will be able to accomplish anything – at all – from running and voting in the elections due in December – or if the heavily conservative political system render the historic reform useless.