The United States on Sunday hailed Saudi Arabia's elections as a "historic milestone," as women won municipal council seats in the first vote open to female voters and candidates.
"The participation of women represents an important step forward in Saudi Arabia toward a more inclusive electoral process that will ensure all citizens are represented in a government accountable to all Saudi citizens," the State Department said. It congratulated the nearly 1,000 women who ran as candidates in the Saturday election.
According to results released Sunday, at least 17 women won seats.
Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was the first confirmed victory for a woman, beating out seven men and two other women for the council seat in Madrakah, about 150 kilometers north of Mecca.
Women still facing many obstacles
About 900 of the roughly 6,000 candidates for 2,000 local positions were woman, despite obstacles in running and registering to vote, Human Rights Watch reported. The rights watchdog said the distance to voter registration centers and required ID cards that many women do not have hindered the process.
Saudi women vote at a polling center during the municipal elections, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 12, 2015.
About 130,000 women registered to vote in Saturday's poll, Saudi officials said, one-tenth the number of registered men.
Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said Saudi Arabia's political and cultural segregation of men and women is "making it hard for women to participate and build on this progress to create momentum for further women’s rights reforms."
Voting is rare in the kingdom. Saturday's elections were the third time citizens have cast municipal ballots. The late King Abdullah, who died in January, issued a decree in 2011 authorizing women to vote.
Saudi woman Fawzia al-Harbi, a candidate for local municipal council elections, shows her candidate biography at a shopping mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 29, 2015.