17 women elected in Saudi Arabia's first election open to female voters and candidates

Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was the first to be elected after running for a municipal concil in the city of Mecca

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Saudi women vote at a polling center during the municipal elections. Image: Aya Batrawy / AP/Press Association Images

17 women have won municipal councils seat in the country's first ever election open to female voters and candidates.

The first was Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi, who was elected to the council of Madrakah, in the city of Mecca.

More than 900 women ran for seats on municipal councils, Saudi Arabia's only elected public chambers.

They were up against almost 6,000 men competing for places on 284 councils whose powers are restricted to local matters, including responsibility for streets, public gardens and rubbish collection.

More than 130,000 women were registered to vote compared to 1.35 million men.

However the vote has been seen as a tentative step towards easing restrictions that are among the world's tightest on women.

Men and women vote separately in the kingdom, where the sexes are strictly segregated.

The Islamist monarchy, where woman are banned from driving and must cover themselves from head to toe in public, was the last country in the world where only men were allowed to vote.

Gender segregation at public facilities meant that female candidates were unable to directly meet the majority of voters - men - during their campaigns.

Women also said voter registration was hindered by bureaucratic obstacles, a lack of awareness of the process and its significance, and the fact that women could not drive to sign up.

Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by the al-Saud family of King Salman, has no elected legislature and has faced intense scrutiny from the West over its human rights record.

A slow expansion of women's rights began four years ago under Salman's predecessor Abdullah, who announced that women would join the elections this year.

The kingdom's first municipal ballot in 2005 was for men only.