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This week Voting rights for Saudi women took an historic step forward. In a country where women are not even allowed to drive cars, female candidates began registering to run in upcoming municipal elections - and for the first time, women will be able to vote for them.

RIAD - August 16th, 2015, was a liberation day for women in Saudi Arabia as, for the first time in history, they were given the right to vote for the national elections. In a country that practices a strict interpretation of Sharia law, prohibiting  women to drive and compelling them to ask a male guardian for permission to work,  get an identification card, or get married, this is a significant step forward.


Four years ago, Saudi Arabia was strongly criticized for the lack of involvement of women in the 2011 elections and King Abdullah announced that women would be allowed to take part in the next national election. Not only were they given the right to vote, but they were also allowed to register to stand in local elections. According to Saudi-funded newspaper Al-Hayat, around 200 women have already expressed an interest in standing as candidates in the December 12 vote. There may be many more coming, for voter registration ends on September 14 and candidates must register by September 17.


Former King Abdullah considered this new legislation a logical consequence to the introduction of municipal elections to Saudi Arabia after his coronation in 2005. Moreover, after granting women the right to vote in 2011, in February 2013 Abdullah named women for the first time to the country's Shura Council, an all-appointed consultative body.


On Sunday, August 16, two women named Jamal Al-Saadi and Safinaz Abu Al-Shamat declared it a national duty for women to participate in the elections and became the nation’s first female registered voters when they arrived at the opening of electoral offices in Madinah and Makkah respectively.


However, these positive changes granting women a bigger role in the country’s public life are facing reactions of conservative Saudis, especially now with the recent change of sovereignty following the death of King Abdullah in January. King Salman is indeed said to be much more in agreement with the country's hard-line conservative religious establishment than his predecessor.


Human Rights Watch regards women’s suffrage as insufficient “to secure women's full integration into Saudi public life.” Equality is far from being achieved in Saudi Arabia considering, for example, women’s inability to drive, get a higher education, and be in control of their marital life.


"Women Without Shadows", by the first female Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, analyses over different interviews the perception of the woman's role in Saudi Arabian society.

"Wadjda", by Cinema for Peace Award Winner Haifaa al Mansour, is a film about a 10-year-old girl, who fights for her deam to be allowed to ride a bike.