Saturday saw Saudi Arabian women voting for the very first time in local council elections and also standing as candidates. The elections were for council seats which previously had only advisory powers, however, these elected positions will now have some (limited) power to make actual decisions in local government. Additionally, by Sunday at least 19 Saudi women won seats on these local municipal councils.
According to Saudi election officials, 973 female candidates and 130,637 women voters registered to vote. 82% of the women registered to vote cast ballots. For comparison, 5,938 male candidates are running for various offices and 42% of the registered men cast ballots. King Abdullah, who died in January, announced in 2011 that women would get to vote in these 2015 elections. Abdullah also supported education and employment of more Saudi women.
Upon hearing King Abdullah’s declaration in 2011, the Grand Mufti, Saudia Arabia’s senior religious quasi-legal bigwig, announced that allowing women to get involved with politics was “opening the door to evil.” Hardly surprising; since when has major religion been enlightened?
Also, we are talking about the same country that regularly beats women senseless merely for existing. Women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden from simple daily routines; they may not drive, and men in this extreme patriarchal society can easily prevent “their” women from working, traveling and attending school. Women can be prevented from marriage or forced into such as early as age 10. The oppression faced by females in this Middle Eastern country is historically profound, the laws strict beyond reason. Cultural devaluation of women is both extreme and largely unrelatable to the West and, while the world in general has strides to make in regards to gender equality, most Western women have never felt they might truly be beaten up in the street for a few strands of hair showing (and thus “seducing” the menfolk from their places of supposed sexual control) with no recourse but to fucking take it.
In a land both frightening and hostile, women have stood up. It’s hard to find words to convey their bravery, but the women’s stories and actions speak volumes.
“As a first step it is a great achievement. Now we feel we are part of society, that we contribute,” said Sara Ahmed, 30, a physiotherapist. “We talk a lot about it, it’s a historic day for us,” said Ahmed who spoke to Reuters as she entered a polling station in north Riyadh.
While one can say voting is largely a farce, and I will agree, one cannot deny the significant bit of momentum this gives for women to slowly and painfully make headway on the freedom they have always so rightly deserved in Saudi Arabia. Of course, it didn’t all go off without a hitch. Dozens of women were barred from candidacy for no good reason; most of the excluded women had a history of political activism of the decidedly liberal variety. Human Rights Watch reported difficulties encountered by Saudi women at the polls including trouble proving identity and residency. Also, women were segregated and not allowed to speak to male voters because of the filthy, dirty, unholy, unclean ways of females. Right? That’s what this is all about? The purity and superiority of the ones with the dicks who think they have the power of a god? Fuck you and give me a break, I say on behalf of all the Saudi women who would be killed for that statement.
My sisters in Saudiland: know that we are with you in journalism, for whatever it is worth. We are with you to the end, and glad to be witness to this margin of freedom you’ve won from unholy oppression. No men “gave” this to you, whatever the media may report; we know it is you who have taken your rightful place through courage. With One Gonzo Spirit, we salute your dignity.