Saudi Arabia now has more female lawyers than ever before — a major win for the women in the country where, until last week, women were not allowed to drive.
In 2016, the Arab nation issued licenses to practice law to 83 women, according to the newspaper Okaz. The figure represents 113% increase from the previous year and reflects gains in women’s rights and representations in the country.
Women have been allowed to study law at university in Saudi Arabia since 2005, but the Saudi government only began issuing licenses to female lawyers in 2012, according to Al Bawaba. Before the change in policy, women who studied law in university were only able to work as “legal consultants,” CNN reported.
King Abdullah pronounced in 2012 that women would be allowed to register as lawyers after he received a petition to let women practice law with 3,000 signatures and after online campaigns called for a change in policy, according to CNN.
Shortly after Saudi Arabia began allowing women to practice law, Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran, one of the country’s first female lawyers, opened its first all-female law firm, according to Jezebel. The firm is particularly focused on representing women and addressing women’s rights issues.
In 2013, Human Rights Watch noted that Saudi female lawyers still face many challenges, saying “for Saudi women to practice law on anything close to an equal footing with men, they need protection from discrimination against women in the courtroom, and freedom to travel and to drive.” And though women can now register as lawyers, judges must still be men, according to Newsweek.
While there is still work to be done to achieve gender equality in the Middle Eastern country, progress is being made one step at a time.
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