Women in Saudi Arabia allowed to vote for the first time

Women in Saudi Arabia are to be allowed to vote for the first time, this Saturday.

The Saudi kingdom is is one of the most repressive regimes in the world, with gay people facing the death penalty, women facing legal discrimination, and extreme curbs on free speech.

Saturday will mark an important and long-overdue milestone, as women will be able to run for office, as well as to vote.

Until now, women in Saudi have been unable to do either, and have often complained about their inability to prove their identity or address.

Female candidates in elections were previously unable to speak to male voters, and were required by law to have segregated campaign offices.

This Saturday, up to 130,637 women will vote, and 979 female candidates will stand for local offices.

There is still a long way to go, however, as 1.3 million men are registered to vote and over five thousand will be standing in the elections.

While voters select half of the candidates, the King appoints the other half.

“Saudi women have faced significant obstacles in their fight for their right to vote and run in the municipal council elections, but their participation on December 12 will send a strong signal to Saudi society that women are continuing the long march toward greater participation in public life,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

While many have hailed Saturday as a huge step forward for the traditionally male-dominated kingdom, campaigners say the voting day will tell whether attitudes will change.

Some have said that including women as token candidates is useless, if none are elected.

Women in Saudi Arabia are still required to be accompanied by a male guardian, to cover their heads and they are still unable to drive.

Votes for women were first proposed ten years ago, and in the subsequent decade, women in the workforce has increased from 23,000 to 400,000.

Prime Minister David Cameron was recently challenged over an alleged ‘deal’ that saw Saudi Arabia join and head up the UN’s Human Rights Council.