Saudi leaders are encouraging women lawyers to appear in court and represent other women.
As part of ongoing judicial reforms, the Saudi government is developing a network of specialized courts, including “personal status” or family courts, where the women lawyers would be allowed to practice.
Al-Sheikh Salih al-Lihaida, a legal consultant, said that women lawyers representing women and their issues were necessary.
Mr. al-Lihaida said women could understand other women’s woes, and that women clients revealed information more readily to women lawyers.
“There are women who feel shy about expressing their problems to even their fathers or sons,” he said.
He said if there were a case of shortage in male lawyers, there would be nothing wrong if women lawyers represented their male clients, if they had the permission to do so through their male guardians.
Wala Mukhtar, a lawyer, said that she sees no difference between defending men and women, and that she will accept any case.
“Women lawyers are very important since women are increasingly widening their activities,” Ms. Mukhtar said.
She noted that in early 2010, the Saudi justice minister, Mohammed al-Issa, announced that female lawyer could appear in court but only to represent other women. Nevertheless, she said, Saudi women still face hurdles to get certificates to officially practice as lawyers.
Like Ms. Mukhtar, Sara Hassan has a law degree. Both women opted to offer logistical support and legal advice to women only.
When asked if she was neutral on whether to defend men or women, she said if a man asked for her help she wouldn’t hesitate.
She said that there was still a large section in Saudi society that harbored suspicion over a female lawyer’s performance; Saudi women lawyers, she said, “are destined to change such impressions.”
“Female doctors faced the same situation, but society’s impression of them has changed—and some of the women doctors now outperform the male ones,” she said.
(Dina Al-Shibeeb of Al Arabiya can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)