Social media lifts Saudi women in vote

The Wall Street Journal reports: After Lama al-Sulaiman became one of Saudi Arabia’s first elected female politicians over the weekend, she celebrated her landmark victory through her Twitter account.

She expressed thanks to her supporters and said she hopes to meet their expectations. “Words of gratitude are not enough,” she tweeted.

As with many other candidates who had to campaign under restrictive rules in this absolutist monarchy, Ms. al-Sulaiman bet heavily on social media to promote her political program and to hear from voters.

Ahead of Saturday’s historic election — the first in which women were allowed to participate as voters as well as candidates — she combined face-to-face campaigning with social-media outreach to secure a seat in the local council of her hometown, the coastal city of Jeddah.

“Saudi Arabia is ready for women in politics,” said Ms. al-Sulaiman, the entrepreneur behind a woman-only fitness club and one of at least a dozen women who won a seat in Saturday’s nationwide municipal election.

That Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of social-media use in the world — there are an estimated five million Twitter users in the country — helps explain the ease in which candidates promoted their campaigns and articulated their priorities. [Continue reading…]

Michael Stephens writes: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s recent municipal elections is not usually a story most international observers would spend an awful lot of time on. But the election of 19 women from some 2,100 candidates has focused attention for the first time on the role of women in a country which has over the years received much criticism for its perceived imbalance of gender.

While fewer than one percent of the successful candidates were female, make no mistake, this is a big moment for Saudi. Thirty women already sit in Saudi Arabia’s 150-member parliament, known as the Shura Council, but they are appointed directly by the king. So the election of women by the public is a welcome step which in the eyes of many commentators – indeed many Saudis – is long overdue.

There is much more to be done, the next most likely step being the normalisation of driving for men and women. But as with all things in the kingdom, change happens slowly and at its own pace. [Continue reading…]

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