This piece originally appeared on The Wessex Scene.
In a landmark decision, an all-female law firm has officially opened in Saudi Arabia for women seeking legal advice.
The founder is Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran, who was also the first woman to defend a client in the Jeddah General Court last November. She has since been granted a royal decree, cementing her right to work as a Saudi female lawyer. Three other women, Sarra Al Omari, Jihan Qurban, and Ameera Quqani, are all expected to join her after being given licenses by King Abdullah himself. This means female law graduates in the Kingdom are no longer banned from practicing law while legal consultants are now entitled to become full-fledged attorneys.
The firm was launched in Jeddah on the 1st of January, with Al-Zahran declaring that she was ready to take on the task of fighting for and protecting women’s rights in one of the most conservative countries in the world.
For years, she worked as a legal consultant in Saudi Arabia, but in a statement to Arab News, she said that she had found that her male counterparts did not always understand the cases of many female claimants. Meanwhile, Saudi women currently find it very difficult to procure a female lawyer to represent their cases in court.
To address this growing problem, Al-Zahran’s law firm will seek to dedicate time and effort to help women in the Kingdom solve many types of legal disputes. Al-Zahran’s father, Sheikh Mahmoud Al-Zahran, has praised his daughter’s achievements: “This will help all women who couldn’t go and speak to male lawyers about their problems.”
However, despite such progress, Saudi judges are still permitted to ignore a female lawyer’s counsel. Meanwhile, Mazen Batterjee, the vice president of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, has stressed that Shariah Law will be upheld, meaning all women must adhere to a set of strict rules about their appearance in court or face outright rejection.
While this move proves to be a significant milestone in the Kingdom’s legal profession, it seems the country has a long, long way to go in increasing women’s role in the public sphere.
Nevertheless, Al-Zahran remains optimistic, saying: “I believe women lawyers can contribute a lot to the legal system. This law firm will make a difference in the history of court cases and female disputes in the Kingdom. I am very hopeful and thank everyone who supported me in taking this historical step.”