Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called on Saudi Arabia to ease restrictions regarding the registration of women as lawyers, stressing the need for "protection against discrimination" and ending "guardianship restrictions."
The statement comes two days after Saudi Arabia registered Arwa Al-Hujaili as the first female trainee advocate, paving the way for women to practice the legal profession in the kingdom where strict Islamic Law is applied.
Arwa is a King Abdulaziz University graduate from Jeddah. She is a legal trainee, which allows her to practice law and become a licensed lawyer within three years.
"Saudi authorities need to lift the many obstacles facing the first woman to train as a lawyer in Saudi Arabia before she can enter the profession on an equal basis with men," HRW said.
"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, freedom to travel and to drive, and the ability to make their own decisions about their work lives," HRW Deputy Middle East Director Eric Goldstein said.
Moreover, the statement referred to the necessity of ending the guardianship system, which forces females to get the consent of their male guardians in most legal procedures.
According to AFP, the Saudi justice ministry said in October that women lawyers would be allowed to plead cases in court starting November 2012. But the promise did not materialise.
Female law graduates launched a campaign in 2011 asking to be allowed to plead in court.
Arwa's registration as a lawyer comes amid efforts to widen the scope of women's rights in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom.
King Abdullah swore in the country's first female members of the Shura Council – an appointed body that advises on new laws – on 19 February, 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, violated Islamic Law.
In September 2011, Abdullah granted women the right to cast ballots and run as candidates in local elections set for 2015.
Saudi women were also allowed to attend a book fair held in March with men, an unprecedented move in the country's history.