The Current

Documentary chronicles women running for office in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia

The year was 2015 — the first time women were allowed to vote and run for office in Saudi Arabia. Now a New York Times documentary "Ladies First" gives a rare look into the differing views that exist within the ultra-conservative nation on women's rights.
(Yousur al-Hlou)

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Women in Saudi Arabia today are not allowed to drive, work, get health care, open a bank account, or much else outside the house without the permission of a so-called male guardian, such as a husband, father, brother or even son.

But, last year — for the first time — Saudi women were allowed to take part in the political process, both as candidates and voters. 

New York Times reporter Mona El Naggar. the director of Ladies First: Saudi Arabia's Female Candidates tells The Current's Kelly Crowe about the documentary that follows three Saudi Arabian women on a remarkable first as they campaigned for seats in the 2015 municipal elections.

"[The film] raises the question of what's the purpose of this election? Is it really to allow women a greater opportunity to participate politically?" Naggar tells Crowe.

"Is it a step towards democracy? And if it's not, then what is it?"

Loujain Al Hathloul — one of three women featured in the documentary —  explains why she ran in the 2015 Saudi Arabia's election.

"I see it as a great opportunity to give women to stand next to men for once. You can't believe how hard it can be sometimes in this country," says  Al Hathloul 

The difficulty cultivating change in Saudi Arabia El-Naggar tells Crowe is that "nobody here wants to be the first one to do it."

" A lot of people accept change as long as it comes from somewhere else."

And when it comes to how to proceed,  Al Hathloul says the Kingdom is conflicted.

"You've seen two faces of Saudi. One that is trying to push forward. And one that is trying to restrict any change."

"They've succeeded in eliminating the identity of the women, by covering her up, hiding her name, doing whatever it takes to forget her," says Al Hathloul.

"Who wants to be forgotten?"

Listen to the full conversation.

This segment was produced by The Currnet's Pacinthe Mattar.