Three Saudi women running as candidates for the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (MCCI) board of directors only managed to garner a paltry four votes in the recently concluded elections.
Amana Abdullah Zawavi, who fought in her second elections, received one vote; Aziza Abdul Qader also secured one vote; and Hada Al-Mahdi secured two votes. It appeared the candidates had all voted for themselves, with Al-Mahdi managing to get an extra vote from a man. Many members of the Makkah business community thought that Zawavi would get more votes because she ran under the auspices of Saad Jameel Qureshi, who secured the second highest votes in the elections, and because she had the experience of running for a second time.
The elections were for six of the 12 seats on the MCCI's board. The other six members will be appointed by the minister of commerce and industry.
The election results come in the wake of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah introducing various measures to empower women in the country including recently appointing 30 women to the Shoura Council. There are 1,000 women voters registered by the Makkah chamber, which has a total of 8,402 voters. There was a poor turnout this year, with only 2,610 exercising their vote. It also appeared that women voters were largely apathetic.
Women were first allowed to vote in the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry elections in 2004 when 90 women voted. In the 2005 Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) elections, women were for the first time also allowed to contest posts. In that election, women won two of the 12 elected seats by running with influential men from Jeddah’s leading merchant families. But in 2009, only one woman out of seven candidates was able to win a seat on the JCCI board of directors.
Inspired by events in Jeddah, businesswomen in the Eastern Province and Riyadh also fought in their respective elections but ended up performing dismally. In both regions, women voters failed to turn up.
However, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry later nominated women members onto the boards of the Riyadh and Eastern Province chambers of commerce.
Women-owned businesses in Saudi Arabia, both registered and unregistered, operate in a wide variety of fields including fashion, jewelry, interior design, photography, beauty salons, retail, wholesale, and professional services such as consulting, marketing, public relations, event management and education.