Politics

This is what Saudi women said about voting for the first time

Not only did women in Saudi Arabia vote on Saturday, 19 won municipal council seats in the first election with female candidates on the ballot.

Remember how great it felt to cast your ballot in this fall’s federal election? Multiply that by 100 to get a sense of what women in Saudi Arabia experienced this weekend when they were allowed to vote for the very first time.

Saudi Arabia became one of the last nations on earth to give women the vote and allow them to run for office in the kingdom’s municipal elections — a huge step in a place where women aren’t permitted to drive or leave the house without a male chaperone.

The lengthy battle for the same electoral freedoms as men resulted in a full 82 percent of registered female voters show up at polling stations on Saturday, although only 130,000 women registered to vote compared to about 1.35 million men out of population of about 30 million. Nineteen women out of the 979 who ran were elected to councils nation-wide, making up one percent of the 2,100 municipal council seats. These are the only positions Saudi citizens can cast a ballot for, controlling everything from childcare to garbage collection.

As you can imagine, Saudi women are pretty stoked despite the many restrictions they still face. First-time voters proudly posed for photos outside voting stations and shared their joy with the press. Here are a few reactions:

“I walked in and said ‘I’ve have never seen this before. Only in the movies’…It was a thrilling experience.” — Sahar Hassan Nasief, a voter in the Jiddah region told the Associated Press.

“I am happy for having voted for the first time in my life.” — a woman who declined to identify herself told DPA News Agency as she left a polling station Saturday.

“Now women have a voice…I cried. This is something that we only used to see on television taking place in other countries.” — Awatef Marzooq told the Saudi Gazette after casting her ballot for the first time in the Riyadh region.

“It’s an assertion that we are citizens and we have rights and we are exercising those rights just like the men.” — Thoraya Obaid, one of the first women to be appointed by the Saudi king to the traditionally all-male national advisory council told NPR.

“This is a new day. The day of the Saudi woman.” — tweeted Hatoon Al Fassi, a university professor and coordinator for the grassroots Saudi Baladi initiative, which worked to raise voter awareness and increase female participation.

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Update