In the first election that women were allowed to contest – and the first that they were allowed to vote in – at least 20 women have made history in Saudi Arabia by winning seats on municipal councils around the country.

The 18 successful candidates were among more than 900 women to run in the first election held since late Saudi King Abdullah announced in September 2011 that women would be allowed to vote in the next election.

While official results are expected to be announced later Monday, media reports say that women won seats in a range of councils across the country – from the country's largest city to small villages, according to Al Jazeera .

There had been heavy criticism in the lead up to the election from rights groups that the measure represented only limited progress due to the undemocratic nature of the country and heavy restrictions on women's right to campaign.

The municipal councils have little power in the country. Women have also been appointed to the Shura Council, though it functions as little more than an advisory body to the absolute monarch, King Salman.

There were also significant restrictions on women's ability to campaign in the highly segregated Saudi Arabia. Female candidates were not allowed to directly campaign to men. However, while photographs of the female candidates were barred in advertising under existing Saudi law, the election commission extended the ban to male candidates in a measure of fairness.

But even the limited success of the candidates – 20 seats our of more than 2,000 being contested – couldn't contain the enthusiasm of a generation of women getting to vote for the first time.