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Saudi women register to vote for the first time

Two Saudi women made history by registering to vote in upcoming municipal elections.
Saudi women pray during Eid al-Adha celebrations on a street in Riyadh, Nov. 27, 2009. (Photo by Stringer/Reuters)
Saudi women pray during Eid al-Adha celebrations on a street in Riyadh, Nov. 27, 2009. 

History was made in Saudi Arabia this week when two women registered to vote for the first time.

According to the Saudi Gazette, a local newspaper, two women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were able to register to vote for the first time this month. Jamal Al-Saadi and Safinaz Abu Al-Shamat, from the cities of Madinah and Makkah, respectively, each registered to vote in Saudi Arabia’s upcoming municipal elections, which will take place in December.

Al-Saadi told the Saudi Gazette: “The participation of the Saudi women in the municipal elections as voters and candidates was a dream for us. The move will enable Saudi women to have a say in the process of the decision-making.”

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Voter registration in those two cities began a week earlier than the rest of the Kingdom. Registration in the rest of the country will begin next week and it is likely that more women will register to vote then. Historically, only men have been permitted to vote in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, a royal decree permitted women to run and vote in municipal elections beginning in December 2015. Arab News reports that 70 women have indicated their intention to run for municipal office, while another 80 have registered as campaign managers.

However, women in Saudi Arabia are still lacking in many of the rights and freedoms granted to women in other nations around the world. Saudi women are not permitted to drive, and have to contend with the “male guardianship” system, which requires them to have male approval to be able to travel, work outside the home, or access higher education. Some of these limits may still serve as barriers to women who want to register to vote, as they may not be able to drive themselves to the polls if they don't have a male guardian who supports women voting.