Sunday, April 18, 2010

CEDAW brings advances in Saudi Arabia

As a child, Tala Hejailan read To Kill a Mockingbird and other books and dreamed of becoming a lawyer. Today, she's a legal consultant waiting for a proposed law to become reality and allow her to become a "real lawyer," fulfilling that childhood dream. The only woman "lawyer" in the commercial law practice where she works, Hejailan cannot represent clients in court because no woman, lawyer or party to a suit, may appear in court unless accompanied by a mahram, a male guardian. A law proposed in February may change that to allow women lawyers to represent clients in family law matters. This would be a boon not only to women who want to be lawyers, but to women needing representation as well: since a woman's mahran is often her husband, she is at a clear disadvantage when seeking divorce or child custody.
The proposed law, which would be limited to family law despite the fact that women are obviously also parties to commercial disputes and subject to criminal conviction, has been under discussion for several years. It would continue efforts to bring Saudi Arabia in line with its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which it joined in 2000. Ratification was subjected to a reservation neutralizing provisions that conflict with Saudi law, however, and it wasn't until 2004 that King Abdullah (left, then crown prince) asked the (all male) Council of Ministers to modify laws to comply with CEDAW. Wisely, he appointed 9 women to advise the council on matters concerning women. He also suggested having women judges join the men on the bench in family courts, but so far, the only progress in this area, significant as it is, is that in 2007, women were given the right to counsel women and three law schools began accepting women students. May the wise King Abdullah and his advisors continue such reforms to that students like Asma Alamdar my realize their dreams of "being a successful law student and [having] a great career in law in Saudi Arabia," practicing "all that they ha[ve] learned, not just part of it."

(credit for still photo of courtroom scene from the movie To Kill a Mockingbird (prior post)

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