At the beginning of the new year, four female lawyers opened the first female-run law firm in Saudi Arabia.
According to The Huffington Post, this opening comes a mere two months after the founder, Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran, and her three peers were the first women to be granted licenses to practice as lawyers.
Prior law in Saudi Arabia withheld female law graduates from practicing and confined them to the status of legal consultants. Al-Zahran told Arab News,“the objective of her law firm is to fight for the rights of Saudi women and bring their problems before the court.”
Al-Zahran is also quoted by Arab News stating,
“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.”
According to Al-Zahran, this is a monumental step for the women of Saudi Arabia.
Previously, women’s issues were either not taken seriously or simply misunderstood by a field of entirely male lawyers.
Now, as Huffington post reports, “this move allows female plaintiffs to feel more comfortable in seeking their rights and freedoms…”
The lifting of this ban and the subsequent opening of Saudi Arabia’s first female law firm is another step forward in the movement for gender equality in this notoriously patriarchal nation. However, even within this victory there are limitations.
Mazen Batterjee, Vice President of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, was present at the opening of Al-Zahran’s firm. According to Arab News, Batterjee congratulated Al-Zahran and her counterparts but also recounted the importance of shari’ah, a type of Islamic law, in both daily life and practice in Saudi Courts.
According to Batterjee, while Islam has given rights to women, there are still ethical rules a woman must follow, such as “restrictions of the court for hijab” when they go before a judge.
While women in Saudi Arabia are overcoming the obstacle of patriarchal laws, they still face the overwhelming persistence of an interpretation of religion that places women in a status below men.
However, with every Al-Zahran and female activist, Saudi women are moving towards equality and equal representation.