Saudi Arabia women break Guinness World Record for breast cancer awareness on day of historic vote

'We are the voice of the future, and if we take care of ourselves, there will be a bright future'

Women in Saudi Arabia have broken the Guinness World Record for the largest human “ribbon” to promote breast cancer awareness – on the same day as they voted for the first time in the country’s history.

The 12 December was already set to go down in Saudi history as a proud day for women, after more than 100,000 voted in municipal elections and 20 female candidates won seats, according to early results.

Fresh from the ballot box, some then headed to the football stadium at the Princess Noura University in Riyadh, where volunteers for the 10KSA initiative handed out pink headscarves and assembled them in formation.

Guinness World Records confirmed the previous best of 6,847 women assembled in a ribbon in India was comfortably beaten, tweeting that 8,264 participants were involved.

And speaking to the Saudi Gazette, the initiative’s main patron Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud said the women who attended “believe that holistic health is important for our future”.

“We are the voice of the future, and if we take care of ourselves, there will be a bright future,” she said.

Women in Saudi Arabia still face various forms of repression in their daily lives, and are forbidden from basic activities including driving, opening a bank account on their own or travelling without the permission of a male guardian.

The 20 female candidates who won seats in Saturday’s election represent just 1 per cent of the roughly 2,100 municipal council places up for grabs, but even limited gains are seen as a step forward for women who had previously been completely shut out of the country’s political processes.

Many women candidates ran on platforms that promised more nurseries to offer longer daycare hours for working mothers, the creation of youth community centres with sports and cultural activities, improved roads, better rubbish collection and overall greener cities.

And as with those raising awareness of Saturday’s record attempt, social media have offered an unprecedented platform for female candidates who could not otherwise directly address voters of the opposite sex.

In Jiddah, the Associated Press was granted access to three generations of women from the same family voting for the first time.

The oldest woman in the family was 94-year-old Naela Mohammad Nasief. Her daughter, Sahar Hassan Nasief, said the experience marked “the beginning” of greater rights for women in Saudi Arabia.

"I walked in and said 'I've have never seen this before. Only in the movies'," the daughter said, referring to the ballot box. "It was a thrilling experience."

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