Agence France Presse
RIYADH: Hundreds of Saudi women began campaigning for public office Sunday, in a first for women in the conservative Muslim kingdom’s slow reform process. More than 900 women are standing alongside thousands of men in the Dec. 12 municipal ballot, which will also mark the first time women are allowed to vote.
Saudi Arabia has no elected legislature and has faced intense Western scrutiny over its rights record.
The country’s first municipal elections were held in 2005, followed by another in 2011. In both cases only men were allowed to participate.
From restaurants to banks, offices – and election facilities – the sexes are strictly segregated in the kingdom.
“We will vote for the women even though we don’t know anything about them,” Um Fawaz, a teacher in her 20s, said in Hafr al-Batin city.
“It’s enough that they are women,” she said.
“I’ve been eliminated as a candidate for the municipal elections,” Loujain Hathloul said in a tweet. “I will be filing my objection via the appropriate channels.”
Saudi authorities detained Hathloul for more than two months after she tried to drive into the kingdom last December from United Arab Emirates, in defiance of a Saudi ban on female motorists.
Nassima al-Sadah, a human rights activist and would-be candidate in the city of Qatif, said officials informed her late Saturday that her name had been removed from the list.
Her campaign was on hold as she tried to clarify her case.
Saudi women must require permission from male family members to travel, work or marry.
But Aljazi al-Hossaini, a candidate in Riyadh, said she did not need any man in her family to grant permission for her candidacy.
The late King Abdullah said women would participate in this year’s vote. In 2013, he also named women to the appointed Shurah Council, which advises the Cabinet.
About 7,000 people are vying for seats on 284 municipal councils, said the the Saudi electoral commission.
Only around 131,000 women have signed up to vote, compared with more than 1.35 million men, out of a native Saudi population of almost 21 million.
Hossaini said she had hoped to set up a campaign tent in Riyadh’s Diriyah area. “When I asked the man to give permission for his land ... he refused,” she said.
Like other contenders, she plans to focus online, and has her own website.