Women in Saudi Arabia will create history on Saturday when they step out to vote in the municipal council elections, which will also see hundreds of female candidates for the first time in the conservative Islamic nation.
The new era for women in the kingdom comes a decade after former ruler, King Abdullah, allowed women to stand for elections to the local chambers of commerce in 2005. He had also brought 30 women into the Shura Council, which is the highest advisory body to the Saudi king, two years ago.
Given that the municipal councils are the only level in Saudi Arabia's government that is open to voting, this historic entry of women in the elections comes as a major step for women's rights in the kingdom, albeit with heavy limitations.
Here are some of the odds women, both voters and candidates, face ahead of Satudray's elections:
- About 900 women will be in the running along with a disproportionate 6,000 male candidates to win in 284 municipal councils. Thus, there is one woman candidate for nearly seven men.
- Women voters make up only 10% of the voter base. About 131,000 women have registered to vote as compared to more than 1.35 million men.
- Female candidates could not interact directly with male voters, who make up 90% of the voter base, and female voters were barred from interacting with male contenders directly.
- Several female candidates, 31 as per reports, dropped out of the race citing high expenses and even pressure form family or local religious leaders.
- Two women were disqualified from contesting, including one woman who was detained for allegedly trying to drive into Saudi Arabia from the UAE. Women in Saudi Arabia are banned from driving.
- The driving ban will prove as another limitation, as women voters will have to depend on male members in their families to take them to and from polling booths, local media have reported.
- Women had to rely on their husbands or fathers' identity cards to register to vote or stand for elections."If the man doesn't want her to participate, he ... can deny giving her all those documents," a female resident told Human Rights Watch.
- The women standing for elections fear that they may not be given authority even if some of them do manage to win.
"I don't believe the female candidates will be given much power even if they win," a woman told Saudi Gazette.
Where to watch LIVE:
You can follow the historic municipal polls in Saudi Arabia through YouTube channels, Saudi news websites and even through Twitter accounts.
This is the link to Saudi TV - http://www.saudiatv.sa/
You can also get details on Saudi Channel 1 YouTube channel.
On Twitter - The official English Account of Saudi Press Agency.