After decades of denying them the right to vote or run as candidates, Saudi Arabia will finally let women to participate in the upcoming municipal elections.
It is being called a historic move – and rightly so. In an ultra-conservative Islamic country where women are not allowed to drive, ride bikes without male guardians, go to public libraries or even dine out on their own, it’s a huge deal.
However, despite the magnitude of it all, just 16 women have signed up to vote in the elections due in December.
“The 16 female voters for the council elections were registrated in the governorates of Farasan Island, Al-Darb and Dhamad in Jazan region,” reported Al Arabiya.
Considering the fact that official voter registration began on Aug. 22, and there are around 28 million women in the country, the percentage of registered women is infinitesimal.
So what’s stopping them?
According to the chairperson of the women’s election circuit in Al-Darb, Shaha Muhammad Asiri, “lack of awareness and difficult conditions” for the already limited number of registrations could be the possible reason behind the few entries.
As mentioned above, Saudi women are still not permitted to drive or leave home without informing a male guardian. Those obstacles alone make it hard enough to register to vote, plus it’ll still take some more time for their deeply religious and patriarchal society to accept the changes, especially when the country’s top clerics are not pleased with the decision.
Although more women are not signing up to vote, enthusiasm to run as candidates is in abundance.
According to Saudi local media, about 200 women have so far expressed an interest in running for office.
Candidate registration began on Aug. 30 and runs until Sept. 17, while voter registration ends on Sept. 14.