The New Indian Express, Editorial, 15th December 2015
(Note: Comparisons are odious. Still we have to make them, to get connected with outside world and to judge where we stand and what we have to learn from other countries etc. Even in this day and age many countries in the world do not have a democratic governments especially in the middle east. Saudi Arabia is the richest country in oil wealth but poorest in democratic spirit. Women are not allowed to drive, or go out alone for marketing, much less for campaigning in elections etc. At least now the democratic sun is dawning there. May it become contagious and spread to other countries. james kottoor, editor)
An election in Saudi Arabia is like snow in the Sahara — it is hard to connect the two — but to have one in which women contest against men is all but impossible to imagine. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened in the famously autocratic Kingdom on December 12. For the first time ever, women were allowed to vote and stand in the elections. These were municipal not national elections, where councillors have limited power. Their jurisdiction extends to purely local affairs such as keeping the streets clean, maintaining public gardens and clearing the rubbish. But for Saudi Arabia, giving even this limited power to women is a massive step into the unknown.
This is a country, where women are not allowed to drive, may not go out in public unless accompanied by a male relative or guardian, forced to wear the veil in public places and shop only in malls exclusively meant for women. In every sense of the word, they are at least 10 steps behind the most stupid of men. Their lives are so tightly circumscribed that even their non-Muslim maids probably enjoy more freedom. Women candidates were doubly handicapped by the fact that they could not directly meet the majority of the electorate — men. The rules forbid contact between the sexes in public so their ability to campaign was restricted. Apart from that, voter registration was hindered by the simple fact that women could not drive themselves to sign up, as well as the many other hurdles unique to Saudi Arabia’s all-male public sphere.
Despite this, at least 19 women won seats in a poll where 47 per cent of the electorate cast their vote. True, it is a small concession but it would be premature to dismiss its significance. For a State governed by the literal edicts of the Sharia to recognise the existence of women as distinct, potentially equal individuals is actually revolutionary. Perhaps, Saudi Arabia is lifting the veil on a subject that was non-negotiable. We hope this is but a beginning and women will get their rightful place in public life.