Early moves by Saudi Arabia to allow female lawyers to appear in court are crucial but more must be done to open up the legal profession to women, activist Mona Al Munajjed said Tuesday.
The Gulf’s wealthiest state said last year it was drafting rules to allow female lawyers to represent family law cases in court, in a departure from existing strict gender segregation that has restricted females to work inside the women’s sections of law offices.
“The government is planning to allow female lawyers to participate in court,” Dr Mona Al Munajjed told delegates at the Arabian Business Women’s Forum in Dubai. “But more needs to be done to provide women with equal opportunities.
“Reforms should come at home with education…change and modernisation can only come gradually,” the Saudi sociologist said.
Saudi Arabia, the most conservative Gulf state, has made slow steps towards women’s rights.
Under existing rules, Saudi women may not drive and concealing their attire is obligatory in public. They must have a male ‘guardian’ to endorse major life decisions, from choosing to marry to taking a job or travelling abroad.
King Abdullah announced in September that women would be allowed to join the previously all-male Shura Council and to vote in municipal elections, a decision seen as a landmark win for women’s rights in the kingdom.
Saudi has lagged neighbouring Gulf states in opening the door to female participation in the legal sector. The UAE allowed female judges in 2008, with Khuloud Ahmad Al Dhaheri becoming the first women to take up the post later that year.
Rebecca Kelly, partner at Clyde & Co Legal Consultants, said Al Dhaheri had broken through the glass ceiling.
“She is paving the way for female advocates to appear before the courts and take part in the profession,” Kelly said.
The move made the UAE the second Gulf country after Bahrain to name a female judge.
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