Tomorrow, Saudi Women Will Vote for the First Time

More than 130,000 women have registered to vote

Saudi Women
Women in Saudi Arabia can finally cast ballots. STR/epa/Corbis

For many westerners, the words “women’s suffrage” sound like a thing of the past. But there are still two places in the world where women have never been able to cast a vote: Saudia Arabia and Vatican City. Tomorrow, that number will dwindle to just one. As Doug G. Ware reports for UPI, women will both vote and run for office for the very first time in Saturday’s Saudi national elections.

More than 900 women are running for local government positions in tomorrow’s elections, writes Ware. The self-nominated candidates are running despite gender segregation laws that prevent them from directly communicating with members of the opposite sex during their campaigns.

Women were granted the right to vote by King Abdullah in 2011, four years before the country’s next national election. At the time, writes The New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar, the move was criticized as politically motivated and not extreme enough, especially given the fact that Saudi women cannot legally drive, argue in court or appear in public unchaperoned.

The Washington Post’s Brian Murphy reports that despite pushback from some opponents, more than 130,000 women have registered to vote. However, that number pales in comparison with the country’s 1.35 million registered male voters.

Jamal Al-Saadi, one of the country’s first women to register to vote, tells Saudi Gazette that “the move will enable Saudi women to have a say in the process of the decision-making.” Given the difficulty of running for office without talking to the majority of voters, it’s unclear whether women candidates will make any progress in this year’s election. But that doesn’t mean the moment won’t be historic for Saudi Arabia’s formerly politically disenfranchised women.

Will Vatican City follow Saudi Arabia’s lead and become the world’s last country to allow women to vote? It’s not likely—only cardinals can vote in the Catholic city’s secret conclaves, and the Catholic church bars women from the priesthood.

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