Saudi Arabia licenses its first women lawyers to practise in the kingdom

by Lisa Anderson | | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 7 October 2013 07:59 GMT

A woman looks at a book during the Riyadh Book Fair on March 9, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nassar

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Hurdles ahead still, but women can represent clients and open their own law firms

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Saudi Arabia Ministry of Justice on Sunday licensed the first four women attorneys in the kingdom to practice law, according to local media and a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

With the licenses, the women can represent clients in court and open law firms in their own names. Prior to this, female law graduates were considered “legal consultants” and could not practise or represent clients on their own.

Female law graduates, frustrated with the lack of opportunity to practise law, launched a social media campaign last year called “I am a female lawyer” to pressure authorities and bring attention to the issue.

In April, in another sign of progress, Arwa al-Hujaili, a graduate of King Abdulaziz University, was licensed as a legal trainee, allowing her to qualify as a fully licensed lawyer after a three-year apprenticeship.

“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, said in April. “But for Saudi women to practise law on anything close to an equal footing with men, they need protection from discrimination against women in the courtroom and freedom to travel and drive.”

The female lawyers newly licensed on Sunday will still face some obstacles, including getting the freedom to travel alone to court. The ministry also has considered installing a fingerprint system to verify the identity of female lawyers in the courtroom without their having to remove their face veils.

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