Haifa al-Hababi is the first woman to ever register as a political candidate in Saudi Arabia. This, is also the first year that women will be allowed to vote in the country this December.
al-Hababi is a 37-year-old architect, professor, newspaper columnist and suffragette. She has been working the campaign trail with her face uncovered and she frequently shirks the typical black abaya for bright colors, reports NBC News Nov. 28.
“Things are changing here,” al-Hababi said when asked about public criticisms of her campaign. “Women’s roles have changed whereby they don’t just necessarily sit at home but work and are much more involved in public life.”
al-Habibi explains that she has been working with other suffragettes to point out that most countries of the world have already granted women the right to vote. “We are the generation who will bring change,” she says.
It’s a big next step in a long journey. Currently, approximately 20 percent of a half million voters are women. There are 30 million people living in Saudi Arabia.
In Saudi Arabia, appearing in public unveiled is a big step onto itself in a country that often does not allow women to drive or leave the house without a male guardian due to fatwas, or religious edicts issued by conservative lawmakers.
In 2011, a royal decree from former King Abdullah declared that women could vote in local elections. It was a decision that many ultra-conservative clerics detested. While the decision is a big win for women in Saudi Arabia, there is a long way to go. al-Habibi is running for office in a municipal election, for example. “We’re talking about local councils and what it means to make a difference with garbage, water and sewage, so we’re trying to convince people that exercising their civic responsibility will make a difference.”