Victory in polls a giant step for Saudi women: paper

ABU DHABI, 15th December, 2015 (WAM) — The triumph of nearly a score of women in what is being seen as a landmark and historical election in a largely traditional country is a massive fillip to the female community. A right step that lives out the Islamic spirit, said a daily newspaper in an editorial today.

“It is a giant step forward for them, as they had previously been completely absent in elections. The exercise is the clearest implementation of former Saudi King Abdullah’s directive, who announced four years ago that women would take part in the 2015 municipal polls,” said The Gulf Today.

What is remarkable is that over a hundred thousand women cast ballots, it added.

Around 7,000 candidates, among them 979 women, were competing for 2,100 seats across the country. The councils are the only government body elected by Saudi citizens.

The two previous rounds of voting for the councils, in 2005 and 2011, were open to men only.

The paper explained that many women candidates ran on platforms that dealt with social and civic issues, such as more nurseries to offer longer daycare hours for working mothers, the creation of youth centres with sports and cultural activities, improved roads, better rubbish collection and overall greener cities.

In October, the Saudi Gazette reported that tough road stretches and long distances to the nearest hospital had forced some women in the village of Madrakah, where one female candidate was elected, to give birth in cars, the editorial said.

“It is precisely these kinds of community problems that female candidates hope to solve once elected to the municipal councils. The councils will advise authorities and help oversee local budgets,” it noted.

Some women were not expecting any of the female candidates to win.

“Saudi women are not allowed to do several things, such as driving, a prickly issue which has the sorority up in arms. They have to kowtow to dictates that give men the overriding power, particularly on issues such as marriage, work, travel and higher education,” the paper explained.

“Even those women contesting for public office had to surmount a number of challenges. However, many female candidates were chuffed that they were running for office, even if they didn’t think they would win. They said they were glad at finally being able to do something they had only seen on television or in movies,” it said.

In conclusion, the editorial said that given the gender disparity, it remains to be seen whether this translates into a more active role in politics for the women in the country. “In a male-dominated world, such a situation seems unlikely, unless men have a sea change in attitude. Happy women will make happy mothers and that will mean happy homes, where everything begins,” it said.