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Women in Saudi Arabia are gearing up to exercise their right to vote for the first time ever. 131,000 women registered to vote. They have been given good choices on whom to vote for. More than 900 women are standing as candidates for positions in the 12 municipal elections.

More than 900 women who are standing in the December 12 municipal elections, kicked off their first-ever campaigns for public office on Sunday.

There have been two municipal elections in all in Saudi Arabia – one in 2005 and then in 2011. In both cases only men were allowed to participate.

Although the voting age has been lowered to 18 from 21 and the proportion of elected council members has increased to two-thirds, winning a seat remains a challenge for women in an electorate where male voters vastly outnumber them. About 7,000 people are vying for seats on 284 municipal councils in the vote, the Saudi electoral commission says. More than 1.35 million men, out of a native Saudi population of almost 21 million have registered to vote.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Women must also cover themselves in black from head-to-toe in public and require permission from male family members to travel, work or marry. This election is therefore a step in the right direction.

Even though the powers of the local councils are limited – restricted to streets, public gardens and rubbish disposal, the women will cut their teeth in the democratic process and hope to win.

“We will vote for the women even though we don’t know anything about them,” Um Fawaz, a teacher in her 20s, said in Hafr al-Batin city. “It’s enough that they are women.”

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