RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Women across Saudi Arabia marked a historic milestone Saturday, both voting and running as candidates in government elections for the first time, but just outside polling stations they waited for male drivers - a reminder of the limitations still firmly in place.
The landmark election for local council seats was not expected to immediately advance the status of women in Saudi Arabia, who are still not permitted to drive, but it is seen as a chance for them to make their voices heard as citizens.
"We are making history. I just made history," said candidate Karima Bokhary, 50, after casting her ballot at a polling station in the capital, Riyadh.
Bokhary was one of 979 female candidates vying for a seat on the country's municipal councils, the only government body in which Saudi citizens can elect their representatives. An additional 5,968 male candidates were running in the election. There is no quota on the number of female council members.
Results were expected to be reported Sunday.
More than 130,000 women registered to vote, compared with 1.35 million men. The General Election Commission estimated there are at least five million eligible voters out of a population of 20 million, but the figure could be much higher.
At a polling center in Riyadh, Shara Al-Qahtani, a 50-year-old mother of eight, wearing a loose black dress known as an abaya that all women must wear in public and a traditional veil covering her face and hair, said women being allowed to vote "is good for people and good for society. . . . Women are partners of men."
Najla Khaled, a 24-year-old English literature major, described voting "as a huge step for women in Saudi."
Though women make up just 10 percent of registered voters, the right to simply cast a ballot sends a wider message to society, she said.
"If you look back at the history of women [in Islam], there are so many strong women," she said. "The Prophet [Muhammad] worked for his wife Khadija. The prophet's wife was his boss technically."
The election tested just how far the kingdom's conservatives were willing to bend while bringing to the fore more liberal voices advocating for greater freedoms and reforms.
In line with Saudi Arabia's strict gender segregation rules, men and women cast ballots at separate polling stations.
During the campaign period, female candidates could not directly address male voters and had to either present their platforms from behind a partition, relying on projectors and microphones, or through male supporters and relatives presenting for them.