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Saudi Women Cast First-Ever Votes – And Vie For Offices

It's a historic day in Saudi Arabia, where officials are touting municipal elections in which women are not only voting for the first time, but also standing for office. But if they want to cast a vote, they'll have to catch a ride: the kingdom still forbids women from driving.

The elections are for nearly 300 local councils. The official Saudi news agency says polling stations are reporting a large turnout, and a smooth voting process.

From Jeddah, NPR's Deborah Amos reports:

"There are plenty of candidates, more than 5,000 men and almost 1,000 women. In keeping with Saudi's strict rules on gender segregation, men and women cast ballots in separate polling stations.

"The vote is seen as a small step to open the way for a more equal role for women in this conservative Kingdom. A popular online taxi service offers free rides to the polls in the only country where women are prohibited from driving.

"But there have been gains in recent decades. Women outnumber male university graduates. More women are entering the workplace and heading businesses. Female candidates say the election is another symbolic step."

One candidate, Amal Badreldin Al Sawari, 60, is a pediatrician in central Riyadh. She tells Agence France-Presse, "To tell you the truth, I'm not running to win. I think I have done the winning by running."

At least two other women in the conservative Islamic kingdom tell the AFP that they were disqualified from running for office; another woman says the candidate she favored withdrew after being criticized by local religious officials.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.