CAIRO – Four Saudi women have entered history after being licensed by the kingdom’s Ministry of Justice to practice law in the Saudi courts for the first time in the oil-rich Kingdom.
“The ministry’s decision to grant Saudi female lawyers licenses to open their own law offices will help female lawyers work without facing obstacles, especially since there are many women who prefer to deal with female lawyers,” Feriyal Al-Kinj, a female Saudi lawyer, told Arab News on Monday, October 7.
According to the ministry of justice, Saudi women will be allowed to represent clients in court and establish their private law firms.
The decision was awaited by many Saudi women who studied law and were not offered a chance to practice law or represent their clients.
In a bid to challenge the current circumstances, Saudi women launched a social media campaign in 2012, under the title ‘I am a female lawyer’ to defend female rights to practice law.
“This license can contribute to helping female lawyers to work within this profession,” Bayan Zahran, a female Saudi lawyer was quoted by Arab News.
“This license will be granted to female lawyers after they fulfill the requirements to practice law in the country’s courts. Such a step represents the full support of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to Saudi women,” she added.
Last April, Arwa Al-Hujaili, a King Abdulaziz University graduate from Jeddah, was licensed to become a legal trainee.
Within three years, Al-Hujaili will be a fully licensed lawyer.
“By licensing a female lawyer, Saudi Arabia has opened up a key profession to women,” Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch in April, told Sydney Morning Herald.
The move is not the first historic decision for Saudi women this year.
Making a milestone for women's rights in the Gulf country, Saudi King Abdullah has appointed women to a fifth of the seats in the all-men Shura Council last Januray, which advises the government on new legislation.
In 2011 he granted women the right to vote and run as candidates in the next local election, set for 2015, and said he would also name them to the Shura Council because "we refuse marginalizing women's role in the Saudi society in all fields."
Granting Saudi women licenses to practice law have raised concerns about the impact of females on the Kingdom’s domestic court system that may ‘change that power imbalance’ in favor of women.
The Saudi judicial system was reportedly accused of favoring fathers and husbands against women in divorce cases, said Bayan Zahran who praised the licenses.
“Female lawyers will be able to work independently from male lawyers.” Zahran was quoted by Arab News.
Yet, some challenges would face the licensed female lawyers, including being discriminated against in the court halls and acquiring freedom to travel alone to attend lawsuits.
The Saudi Arabia Ministry of Justice has managed to build special halls for women in courts, Al-Kinj said adding that more than 2000 Saudi women work as legal consultants in the Kingdom.
“Around 50 percent of my clients are male,” Al-Kinj said.
Aiming to verify the identity of the female lawyer, the ministry managed to implement a fingerprint system to identify women without removing their niqab, Reuters reported on Monday.
Saudi Arabia has seen many changes since Abdullah became king in 2005.
Norah al-Fayez became the first woman ever named to a ministerial post in 2009 when she was given named deputy education minister for women's education.
More recently, Saudi women broke ground when two of them took part in the London Olympics.
Middle distance runner Sarah Attar made history on August 8, becoming the first female athlete to represent Saudi Arabia in Olympics track and field, just days after Wojdan Shaherkani appeared in the judo competition.