UN Sees Opening For Women in Political Space in Saudi Arabia

NEW YORK (INPS) – Saudi women were able to cast votes and run for seats in municipal elections for the first time in Saudi Arabia, representing an opening for women in the political space. This is the latest in a series of steps the Kingdom has taken toward women’s rights, following the 2013 decision of the late ruler of Saudi Arabia His Highness King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz Al Saud to grant 30 seats to women in the Shura Council. 

“These steps mark a significant move toward strengthening women’s political participation and leadership in Saudi Arabia, reflecting its growing commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” UN Women said in a statement on December 18, six days after the polls.

While there is a long road ahead, and many challenges remain around women’s participation in public space, said UN Women, voting and holding office in Saudi Arabia’s elections is a chance for women’s voices to be heard, and “this alone is considered a significant victory that merits recognition”.  Reports suggest that 130,637 women registered to vote, compared to more than 1.3 million men, and Saudi women won 20 of the 2100 municipal seats.

In the Arab region, UN Women works with female candidates to support their capacity to engage in the political realm, enhance women’s leadership, and create a space for women and men to advance the women’s rights agenda on a daily basis. 

UN Women finds that strengthening women’s leadership is key to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which prioritizes gender equality and women’s empowerment, including through a standalone goal, SDG 5, to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

UN Women hopes that this development in Saudi Arabia will be a harbinger for achieving Target 5.5 to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life”.

UN Women’s programmatic work is guided by several priority areas, including women’s leadership and political participation, gender-responsive governance, national budgeting and planning. (INPS | 19 December 2015)

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