The March of Saudi Female Lawyers, by Nadia Al-Anani

Around three years has passed since Saudi women were allowed to become certified lawyers for the first time. I had previously been lecturing at Law Departments in Saudi Universities and my bright, young, female students used to ask me, with their eyes open wide: “When do you think we can be practitioners and defend our clients in court?” I am pleased that this is all from the past. An historical first step was made by the late Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdu Aziz Al-Saud, to change the face of the legal practice in Saudi Arabia forever – to make it more feminine!

Nadia Al-Anani
Nadia Al-Anani

The silent march followed.

By December 2015, the number of trainee female lawyers reached 393, according to the Saudi Ministry of Justice. This is an achievement by itself. There are six law departments in Saudi Arabia teaching Bachelors in law for women, but they were all established during the last decade meaning the number of female graduates, let alone those who would like to pursue a career as private practitioners, is limited. However, we can see progress already; in three years, one tenth of the trainees are women. I am proud that my colleague, Lujain Al Yosef, is the newest addition to the list.

A smaller number of fully licensed female lawyers are registered. Some of them had already graduated from foreign universities some time ago and could only previously work in other jobs, or as in-house lawyers. Fatima Qabel, a licensed lawyer from Jeddah city, has a familiar story. After working as an in-house lawyer for many years after graduation, while waiting for her application to practice law to be approved, she is now able to pursue her dream by working as an advocate and mediator.

The most significant part of the march takes place in courts.

Historically, women only appeared in Saudi courts as witnesses or litigant parties. Judges, clerks and lawyers were all men. Saudi Arabia is culturally conservative and normally men and women socialize and work separately. Thus, it was assumed that all of this would intimidate female lawyers. It did not. Gradually, like the beginning of the rain in spring, a few female lawyers started to present their clients in court, which encouraged others to do the same. The number has been steadily on the increase since. It is now very rare to enter the courts in Saudi Arabia and not see some female lawyers, particularly in labor committees, the commercial courts and family hearings.

The march of Saudi female lawyers is expected to continue.

A wind of change in the country is yielding positive results for women. About the same time legal practice was permitted to women, the Shura Council Law (essentially an appointed senate house and the legislative body of the country) was amended to mandate that at least 20% of the 150 Shura members must be women. Another significant development was allowing women for the first time to elect or be elected to municipality councils, which is considered a political position.

Saudi female lawyers are not alone on the march.

Along with women from other sectors, they are proving that achievements can be obtained in an evolutionary manner, rather than the revolutionary way.

By: Dr. Nadia Al-Anani

El-Enezee in Association with Holman Fenwick Willan LLP

This article represents the view of the author alone.

One comment

  1. Dear Dr. Nadia Anani!
    Highly appreciated sister!

    Thank you so much for your great efforts concerning women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. It is a very important beginning in an important field. I hope that this example will be followed in as many countries as possible in the Arab World. The Women there need the protection of their female sisters in the courts.

    According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2015 Saudi Arabia is rated on place 134 out of 145 countries. News like this are spread all over the world, also in a European country like mine, Austria. In an article from the 9th of January in the well-reputated Austrian newspaper “Die Presse” the Author Martin Gehlen wrote about the image of women in the Arab world. He mentioned following main points: sexual assaults against women would be widespread, especially within the family. An Egyptian Center for Women’s studies described that as a kind of “social cancer” rooted in a patriarchal mentality. The rights of women in court would be hard to defend.

    As an Austrian Muslim teacher for Islam I fully agree. There is no religious apologize for such a bad behaviour. The first and best role-model for a male Muslim man should be the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him. What we learned about him in Europe as Muslims is that he loved and respected his first wife Chadidscha r.a. very deeply. She was a successful owner of her business, a widow of two men before him and more than 15 years older than he was. She tested him as a trustful person in business-life before she let another women ask him for a marriage with her. She was the very first human being believing in his message and strengthening him through the hard times. She was his one and only women during her whole life. In the eyes of most European Muslims this is a strong proof that the Prophet pbuh preferred monogamy as a general value. It was only after her death that the Prophet pbuh married other women in order to strengthen his position: mostly divorced women, or widows.

    There is a historical saying about the way the Austrian regents “The Habsburger” handled their politics: “Tu felix Austria nube!” meaning: “You happy Austria – marry!” It was an Austrian way to avoid war. In my eyes it was also the way of the Prophet pbuh. Fortunately it is possible to be a very good Muslim in Austria: our people are conservative in good way – we believe in honesty and practice it in most cases. We believe in the usefulness of laws and follow it widely. We believe in good manners against everyone and practice that against women and men. We believe in the high value of monogamy and practice it.

    In my opinion it is not only the Muslim men who are corrupted in the Arab countries. Also women practice corruption: very often solidarity among women is a stranger to them. When you as a Muslim woman for example are ready to take away another woman’s husband no matter what the price is, then you spit at the value of solidarity or sisterhood. And that kind of behaviour is unfortunately widespread in several Arab countries.

    I personally see your efforts as a try to revival the value of sister/ brotherhood in an Arab country. May god bless you and ease your struggle. I assume you did not choose the heading

    by accident: the words “March of Women” remind the reader of a song composed 1910 by the great British feminist Ethel Smyth. It was used as a hymn for the British Feminism, and was also understood as a call to battle. The last words stress out the meaning of solidarity:

    (…)Life, strife these two are one,
    Naught can ye win but by faith and daring.
    On, on, that ye have done
    But for the work of today preparing.
    Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance,
    Laugh in hope, for sure is the end!
    March, march, many as one,
    Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.

    Thank you again, dear sister! I will let my pupils know about your brave struggle for justice inshAllah. When you look at your photo and the photo of Mrs.Smyth you can find a lot of similarity…

    Yours sincerely,

    Daniela Abu-Subhieh, MA
    Teacher for Islam in Austrian public schools.
    Member of Board – Austrian-Jordanian Friendship Society

    Austrian – Jordanian Friendship Society
    Ameisgasse 63/3/4, 1140 Vienna, Austria
    Tel. 0043 676 87 96 13 852

    Ethel Smyth Dr. Nadia Al-Anani

    Dear Editor!
    I could not find an e-mail address in order to send you the Word-Dokument
    with the pictures. The footnotes with the sources also do not occur. If you
    would like to get the document, please send me an email address.
    Thank you for your effort in forward!

    Best regards,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *