By Samar Fatany
27 December 2014
Saudi women can now seek advice and legal aid from Saudi female lawyers who have finally been recognized and granted licenses to practice their profession.
Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran, the first Saudi woman lawyer, recently launched the first female law firm in Jeddah.
The ban imposed on female law graduates to practice their profession has been lifted. Bayan Zahran, Jihan Qurban, Sarra Al-Omari and Ameera Quqani have become the first female legal representatives in Saudi Arabia.
This is indeed a positive step that is celebrated by all. A lot is expected from our inspiring female attorneys.
They will be tested to support the calls for a codified system and ensure a uniform application of Shariah laws to protect women who suffer injustices and discrimination in the name of Islam.
These include cases of extreme jail sentences and floggings, child marriages, domestic abuse, child custody issues, and divorce on grounds of tribal incompatibility.
Saudi women lawyers have a duty to inspire others to voice their opinion and to contribute toward the advancement of society.
They need to all work hard to develop their skills and become effective advocates of women’s rights. Among the most pressing issues that need to be addressed are the codification of Shariah laws, the guardianship rule and the driving ban.
Saudi judges and Islamic scholars have control of the Saudi legal system. They continue to reject the codification of Shariah laws.
New civil and criminal rules and all legal procedures are mainly codified though resolutions and Royal Decrees that are often forgotten or unimplemented.
Neither civil nor criminal Shariah is codified. The judge has absolute power to determine what the Islamic rule for each individual case is and is not bound by any rulings of previous cases.
There are no clear laws that define what legal or illegal acts in society are. Women lawyers today are expected to defend the rights of women and support the call for a codified system to ensure a uniform application of Shariah laws to protect women who suffer injustices and discrimination.
They have a responsibility to speak for women’s rights in every sphere of national life and a duty to extend professional advice to achieve social reforms and economic prosperity for all.
Supporting the many calls to limit the guardianship rule to the maximum age of 18 is crucial.
After this age a woman should be responsible for herself and should not be treated as a minor and with her freedom restricted for all of her life.
The guardianship rule does not allow professional women to function independently in society. Unfortunately, the guardianship rule that restricts the daily activities of women is a source of great discomfort for women in their daily activities.
It is unrealistic in this day and age to impose a legal guardian’s control over every Saudi woman young or old.
The fact that women have to obtain official approval from their legal guardian before they make any plans in their lives is very humiliating.
Recently two women were detained and will face a tribunal on charges of “terrorism”, because they drove their cars over the border from the UAE.
Women lawyers in Saudi Arabia are immediately put to the test to defend the detained women’s right to drive.
These young women lawyers are our hope. They should muster enough confidence to stand up for the rights of the aggrieved and effectively address the needs of women and the youth in society.
We need women who are willing to address controversial issues that are obstacles to progress and development.
King Abdullah in many of his speeches has recognized the need to modernize and has spoken against those who oppose progressive thinking and are reluctant to give women their due rights.
“Balanced modernization in line with Islamic values, which preserve rights, is an important requirement in an era with no place for the weak and people with indecisiveness,” he said.
The King called on Saudi citizens, both men and women, to ask for their rights and achieve their goals in dignity.
Saudi women lawyers have a responsibility to apply pressure on hardliners and confront discriminatory policies.
They are expected to promote the activities of civil society and adopt the causes of women in all segments of society.
Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at email@example.com