Arwa Al-Hujaili has become Saudi Arabia’s first female lawyer – but only after spending three years post-graduation petitioning the kingdom’s Ministry of Justice to register her as a trainee.
However, Al-Hujaili’s problems may have only just begun: any Saudi judge who disapproves of women speaking in court has the power to disregard her counsel or forbid her to speak.
Al-Hujaili, 25, graduated in law from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah in 2010 and passed the next three years able to work as a legal consultant in Saudi Arabia, but not as a recognised lawyer. Unlike other female graduates, she chose not to move abroad to countries that allow women lawyers to practise, but to stay in Saudi Arabia and continue applying for registration.
After some 3,000 female law graduates submitted a petition in October last year, King Abdullah ruled that women would in future be allowed to register as lawyers. Despite the royal edict, however, the ministry still refused to process applications from women.
There followed a newspaper article in which a campaigner pleaded with King Abdullah to intervene. Two days later the ministry announced that it would start accepting applications and Al-Hujaili’s application was granted.
News broadcaster CNN quoted her as saying: ‘It will be challenging for the judiciary system to deal with female lawyers, but I think we can overcome these hardships if we prove ourselves competent lawyers.
‘Many women really need to talk to female lawyers, and I want to help those women to get their rights.’