Saudi women voted this weekend on a new board of directors for the Jiddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Women were also included on the list of candidates.
There are an estimated 2,800 businesses registered in women’s names at the chamber, but it was unclear how many of them would be eligible to vote. By Sunday evening, only about 50 women had turned up to vote, said Fatin Boundagji, director of Khadija Bint Khuwielid Women’s Empowerment unit at the Jiddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Turnout among men is expected to be stronger, but is still uncertain.
The election has been billed as a major step forward for women in Saudi Arabia, especially after women were barred from municipal polls earlier in the year. Despite a budding women’s movement in the kingdom, women are still subject to a host of restrictions, most notably against voting in political elections and driving. But many women saw the vote, which included 17 women as candidates, as a victory for women in business, as well.
“This vote is extremely important not just because women are being allowed to vote and to run, but also because it’s a recognition of the role of women in the economy,” said Lubna al-Ghalayini, a human resources consultant in Jiddah who voted Sunday.
Too bad Saudi women have to wait another four years to vote in a nationwide election. Sigh.