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Meet One Of The First Women Elected To Public Office In Saudi Arabia

"It was an amazing moment."

Posted on December 14, 2015, at 2:35 p.m. ET

Rasha Hefzi (left) and the head of her communications team, Hanaa Amer (right), in their campaign office.
Jordan Pix / Getty Images

Rasha Hefzi (left) and the head of her communications team, Hanaa Amer (right), in their campaign office.

Rasha Hefzi is a well-known businessperson in Saudi Arabia, a tireless campaigner, and, now, one of 20 women elected in the nation's first-ever poll open to female voters and candidates.

Hefzi, 38, was elected in the country's second-largest city, Jeddah, in the weekend's municipal elections alongside three other women — Lama al-Sulaiman, Sana al-Hamam, and Massoumeh al-Reda.

A total of 20 women won seats in municipal polls in 10 councils across the nation, including in the conservative capital of Riyadh, where four women were elected.

"It was a very challenging thing to do," Hefzi told BuzzFeed News. "People are used to only voting for male candidates, so trying to support and promote women candidates was a very big challenge.

"It opens doors for more participation in politics by women. We have shown that when you believe in your goals and your message these things are possible."

A woman leaves a polling station in Riyadh.
Reuters

A woman leaves a polling station in Riyadh.

While the 20 female candidates represent just 1% of the roughly 2,100 municipal council seats up for grabs, the achievement is being seen as a step forward for Saudi women, who have previously been unable to vote or run for election.

In Saudi Arabia, women are still not allowed to drive and are governed by guardianship laws that give their husbands or sons the final say over parts of their lives, such as marriage, travel, and education.

Hefzi runs two businesses in Jeddah and works with several charities to campaign for community initiatives and support for women and young people. She told BuzzFeed News that running for council made sense because she already worked closely with them as part of her advocacy work.

"The unofficial count came back and said I'd won, but I didn't want to celebrate until it was official. Then I actually believed it. It was an amazing moment," she said. "I think it is great there are women on councils now. This will empower other women to believe they can hold these positions and help make women's lives better.

"I'm hoping this indicates a brighter and better future for women here."

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