In The Courts

Saudi Lawyers May No Longer Need Male Guardian

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Saudi women are not allowed to enter courts alone. They need a male guardian, whether they're lawyers or parties to a dispute. But the government raised hopes in February that it would begin to partially relax that rule with a new law.

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Women's Perspective Needed

"A woman's perspective and analysis on issues facing women, such as male guardianship or violence in the family, are critically needed in Saudi Arabia," added Khalife in the e-mail interview.

Christoph Wilcke, a senior researcher in Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division, said in an e-mail interview that if the new law is passed, the government will also have to start sanctioning authorities who continue punishing women for coming without a mahram.

If enacted, the law will allow a female lawyer to appear in court by simply showing her civil status I.D. card. She can then serve as her female client's court guardian.

Currently, a female party to a legal dispute may testify only if she is accompanied by a male guardian who can verify her identity beyond her national I.D. card.

Male guardianship laws hurt women in divorce and child custody cases, Hejailan said, since the husband is the likely guardian.

Asma Alamdar, a third year law student in Riyadh, told Women's eNews that not allowing women to practice law and testify in court without the presence of a male guardian reflects the nation's traditions.

"Saudi Arabia is one of the countries where women can not easily be what they really want or should be," said Alamdar in an e-mail interview.

Law Excludes Certain Cases

Hejailan said the proposed law does not apply to commercial and criminal law cases, which she felt was an important limitation, especially since women are party to criminal convictions, commercial disputes and corporate affairs.

Though Hejailan's current legal role is restricted to that of legal consultant, she represents a gradual liberalization of official views on women in courts. In 2004, the Saudi king, then still crown prince, recommended that women be permitted to sit on the bench in family courts, not just male judges. However, this hasn't happened yet.

Three years later, Saudi women were given the right to work as legal consultants to women and three law schools opened their doors to women.

"I dream of being a successful law student and to have a great career in law in Saudi Arabia," said law student Alamdar. "Women who study law should be able to practice all that they had learned, not just part of it."

Rima Abdelkader is a New York-based multimedia journalist. If there's a story you'd like her to cover, she invites you to email her or send her a tweet on Twitter.

For more information:

Freedom House Report on Women's Rights in the Middle East:

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