Saudi Arabia cracks the door open to equality by letting women vote

Saudi women will be able to vote for the first time this year—as long as they can get a male relative or friend to drive them to the polling station.

The first wave of women voters began registering on Sunday in the two holy cities of Medina and Mecca. Registration in the rest of the kingdom doesn’t begin until August 23. 

Safinaz Abu Al-Shamat, a teacher at a school in Mecca, and Jamal Al-Saadi, a business owner who chaired a committee of Medina’s Chamber of Commerce, were the first two women to register on Sunday. They told the Saudi Gazette that they were fully prepared for the landmark event. 

“I was quite ready for this day,” Saadi told the Gazette. “I have prepared all the documents needed to obtain a voter’s card. This is a nice experience to go through. We are just at the beginning of the road.”

Saadi also hinted at a desire to run for election herself. “I may have such ambitions. I love to go through this experience till the very end.”

Women didn’t just gain the right to vote in Saudi Arabia; they can now also run for political office, which will present an interesting challenge once a woman is elected and finds herself unable to drive to work.

Twitter users were all too ready to call out this striking irony.

(Sorry, this embed was not found.)

In addition to driving, women in Saudi Arabia are also forbidden from swimming in public pools; working out in gyms; trying on clothes in store dressing rooms; entering cemeteries; reading fashion magazines; wearing anything other than a full abaya covering their face, hair, and body; and going anywhere without a male relative or a chaperone known as a mahram.

Saudi women also cannot get divorced or open their own bank accounts.

Photo via Tribes of the World/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.