[Hana Al-Zuhair (L), the head of the Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Fund for Women’s Development, said that she was very proud of what was happening. (Photo: Arab News)]
Riyadh: Municipal elections began in Saudi Arabia on Saturday in which women are participating as voters and candidates for the first time. A total of 978 women have registered as candidates, alongside 5,938 men.
About 130,000 women have registered to vote, officials said. That figure still falls well short of male voter registration, which stands at 1.35 million.
Salma al-Rashed was the first woman to register to vote.
"It felt really good," she told BBC. "Change is a big word but the election is the way to make sure we are really represented."
Hana Al-Zuhair, the head of the Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Fund for Women’s Development, told Arab News from Alkhobar that she was very proud of what was happening.
“This is a great learning experience for us. The fact that more than 900 women candidates are contesting is proof that women are excited and optimistic", she said.
Elections themselves are a rare thing in Saudi Arabia -- Saturday will be only the third time in history that Saudis have gone to the polls.
There were no elections in the 40 years between 1965 and 2005.
The decision to allow women to take part in election was taken by late King Abdullah. But, one person who played a key role in influencing the decision-makers to allow women to participate in the municipal council elections is Hatoon Al-Fassi.
A well-respected historian and academic from Makkah but based in Riyadh, Al-Fassi is the founder of the Baladi Initiative — a national civil society campaign for women’s participation in the public sphere. She ran several workshops to educate women about campaigning and electioneering.
The results of the elections are expected to be announced later on Saturday.