Saudi women are about to vote for the first time — if they can get to the polls.

Municipal elections have been held in Saudi Arabia twice in the last 10 years. Both times, only men were allowed to vote.

Then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Saudi Prince Fahd bin Abdullah in 2013. Photo via Erin Kirk-Cuomo.


Elections were supposed to happen every four years, which would have put them on this voting schedule: 2005, 2009, 2013.

But the Saudi government postponed the 2009 elections until 2011, citing a need to evaluate them, which was frustratingly vague to citizens yearning for a say in their local governments.

It's time to register to vote in the upcoming Saudi elections. But this time, women are registering, too. How did that come about?

During the delay, efforts increased to secure an actual election and women continued their campaign to gain access to democracy, too. At the same time, the Arab Spring was happening in Egypt and other countries, with the leadership of nearby Middle Eastern countries monitoring the protests and taking cues on how much autonomy to give their citizens.

That movement sparked the kinds of dictator-y dilemmas one might imagine happening in that context: "How much agency can I give people to avoid an uprising but still maintain control?" And as some political analysts note, throwing people a bone by allowing women to vote in municipal elections is an example of calculated concessions.

Technically, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections in 2011, but this will be the first election since that edict. Not everyone in Saudi society is a fan of the decision, but sharp divides are par for the course when it comes to what actually constitutes equal rights for women in many countries.

John Kerry visited King Abdullah in 2014. Image via U.S. Department of State.

Fast-forward to 2015. The election that was originally supposed to happen in 2013 is now happening in December. Earlier this year, there was some uncertainty about whether women would actually be able to vote. That's because King Abdullah, who issued the decree on women voting, died in January. Thankfully, his decision was upheld by the new Saudi King Salman.

Many women in Saudi Arabia are delighted to learn that, this time, a king's decree is really coming true.

Saudi women at a mall in Riyadh. Tribes of the World/Flickr.

But there's one big problem: Women can't drive themselves to the voting booths.

In Saudi Arabia, it's still illegal for women to drive. And not just the kind of illegal where people do it anyway and the authorities look the other way — the kind where a woman driving is seen as a real political act of defiance and a threat to authority.

They can't just catch a ride to the polls with their husbands or brothers, either. Because of the stringent segregation in public between men and women, a third of the polls are set aside as women-only, with men using the rest of the locations.

Amnesty International pointed out that voting, while long overdue, is only one small part of women's equality. Driving — and the fact that women still require permission from a male guardian before they can travel, work, marry, or attend school — is still a huge factor in Saudi women's rights.

We all know that just because a right is acknowledged, it doesn't mean a group that's been treated as second-class citizens is immediately empowered.

There's a fable about a baby elephant chained to a stake at the circus. The stake was firmly set in the ground and that small, fledgling elephant learned that, no matter how hard she tried, she could not make it budge. As she grew larger and more powerful, she could have charged forward and mightily freed herself with nary an effort if she'd so decided. But in her mind, that stake was immovable, so she never thought to try.

That's not to patronize the sheer force of will it took for activists to make this happen. But that fable is akin to what any newly "equal" group is up against — a hard-won concession to allow their voices to shape their environment, pitted against an ingrained apathy or sense of futility for some that can stem from coping mechanisms amid decades of oppression.

While that can't be undone in one election, hopefully it's a first step toward women eventually ripping that proverbial stake out of the ground.

Haifa al-Hababi, a 36-year-old candidate at a workshop to run in the upcoming election, said: “Change the system. Change is life. The government has given us this tool and I intend to use it."

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Maria Ducasse of Brooklyn is an inspiring example of how one person can unite a community to ensure no one loses their pet because of hardship.

Three years ago, she founded East New York Dog Lovers a nonprofit that has grown to have 29 foster homes, 200 volunteers, and helped reconnect more than 50 dogs with their people. It's a safety net where struggling pet owners get emergency fostering, help with medical bills, and food for their fur babies.

"Our biggest mission is to end pet surrendering," Maria told Chewy. "So whatever help may be needed—food, vet care, whatever you need to keep your pet at home—we are willing to supply and help you."

Maria has arranged for people struggling with homelessness, domestic violence, and medical emergencies to connect with fosters who care for their pets until they're back on their feet. Her hard work keeps families intact and pets safe.

"We just keep getting bigger," Maria says. "Every time we go out there and help somebody, they're like, 'I'm in—how can I help?'"

Maria's wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Community Pet Foster."

Photo by Nicolas Ruiz on Unsplash

The weight of a glass with water used as an analogy for stress.

"How heavy is this glass of water?"

That was a simple question posed by a professor to his students. This video initially came out in 2019, but recently was reposted by @thementorhouse on TikTok and has gone viral yet again.

The students began to guess. 8 oz? 12? 16?

Their answers all received a shake of the professor's head, because the lesson wasn't about physics. It was about stress.

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Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

From delightful musical TikTok collaborations to surprise engagements, here are 10 delightful finds from this week.

Hello, everyone!

At Upworthy, we're on a mission to make the world a better place, and part of that mission includes bringing more joy into people's lives. Sometimes that means sharing stories of hope and humanity to warm your heart, and sometimes it means sharing silly animal videos you can't help but laugh at.

Each week, we round up 10 things from around the internet that spark joy and delight in the hopes that it brings a little lightness to your day. If you've had a long week and are looking for some reasons to smile, here are 10 of them:

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Cherie Garcia posted her son's coming out letter on Twitter.

Cherie Garcia managed to score some major mom points from her response to her child's creative—yet slightly flawed—coming out letter.

Using colorful cut-out letters, Garcia's son Crow made a short letter coming out as transgender, which looked something like a ransom note. The message was meant to be: Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of your very own son.

Garcia was nonchalant about the announcement, but she did notice something unsettling that every mom would notice. And she was quick to point it out.

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