JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs has decided to end gender segregation, saying that council offices should be organized in a way that that allowed both sexes to attend meetings, seminars and workshops in line with Shariah regulations, said sources.
Women previously sat in separate rooms and communicated with men through electronic means.
Rasha Hefzi, a female councilor in Jeddah, supported the move. “We have been asking for this for the past four years, ever since we started to participate in the municipal council,” she told Arab News. “The ban was an obstacle that hindered a lot of communication channels for us as city council members with other male members, the municipality, other entities and different stakeholders.”
Women would now have the ability to mobilize and have direct communication with the public, civil society groups, their male counterparts and other government entities, she added. “After removing this barrier, we have the freedom of articulating the new plans we want to implement with the council and with the ministry.”
Elections in December 2015 were the first time in the Kingdom that women were allowed to vote or stand for political positions.
“Women would now have the ability to mobilize and have direct communication with the public, civil society groups, their male counterparts and other government entities.”
Rasha Hefzi, Councilor in Jeddah
More than 130,000 Saudi women out of 1.48 million eligible citizens registered to vote for the first time in municipal elections for 6,917 candidates, 979 of them women.
Twenty-one women were elected, while 17 were appointed across the Kingdom. Women were members of just 10 municipal councils out of 285, and the total of women members was 37 while the number of men was far higher at 3,156.
Women faced a number of challenges prior to the election, such as finding sponsors for their campaigns and the low awareness among the public about voting for women, or even trusting municipal councils. There also needed to be training courses for women seeking to join municipal councils.
Lama Al-Sulaiman, who was elected to Jeddah’s municipal council, resigned soon after the 2015 election. Media reports at that time indicated she was frustrated with the gender segregation at council meetings, with women being forced to communicate through television monitors.