Saudi Arabia has registered its first female trainee advocate, paving the way for women to practise as lawyers in the kingdom where strict Islamic Sharia law applies, an activist said on Tuesday.
"The road is open now to women to receive permits to practise as lawyers, after the registration of Arwa Al-Hujaili as the first trainee lawyer," rights activist Walid Abulkhair told AFP.
Abulkhair posted on his Twitter account a copy of the justice ministry's certificate of Hujaili's registration.
"The [trainee] lawyer should be contracted by a lawyer who has been in service for more than five years... and should train for no less than three years," he said.
A trainee lawyer is allowed to practise, he said.
The ministry's move would boost the status of women in the ultra-conservative kingdom, where females need the consent of their male guardians in most legal procedures. Women are also banned from driving and have to cover from head to toe when in public.
In October, the ministry said women lawyers would be allowed to plead cases in court starting November 2012. But the promise did not materialise.
Women law graduates launched a campaign in 2011 asking be allowed to plead in court.
Cautious Advancement of Women's Roles
This step comes amid a series of efforts to arguably widen the scale of women's rights in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.
King Abdullah swore the country's first female members of the Shura Council on 19 February, an appointed body that advises on new laws, in a move that has riled conservative clerics in the Islamic monarchy.
"Your place in the Shura Council is not as those who have been honoured, but as those who have been charged with a duty, as you represent part of society," Reuters quoted Abdullah as saying as he addressed the new women members.
The decision to appoint women to the Shura Council prompted a protest by dozens of conservative clerics outside the royal court in January.
They complained that the move, and other reforms aimed at making it easier for women to work, went against Sharia law.
Saudi women, also, were allowed to attend the book fair held in March with men, an unprecedented decision in the country's history.
In September 2011, Abdullah granted women the right to cast ballots and run as candidates in local elections set for 2015.
Sheikh Abdel Latif Al-Sheikh, head of Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (PVPV), announced that both men and women will be allowed to attend next week's book fair in the capital Riyadh, Saudi Okaz newspaper reported on February.
"The role of the PVPV will only revolve around notifying the ministry of culture and media in case religious or moral [violations] take place at the fair," he said.
Understood as Saudi Arabia's second most powerful political body after the ruling Al-Saud family, the Haia police are feared in Saudi streets. Haia men may approach and arrest anyone they deem as breaking their rules, even if merely inciting "fitna" or temptation.
Al-Sheikh decided in early 2013 that women will be permitted to work in shops selling female accessories as long as they are subject to the rules of Islamic Sharia. Speaking to Saudi newspaper Al-Madina, Al-Sheikh explained that the PVPV will be authorised to restrict women from this type of work if they violate Sharia law.