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Breaking news from Al Jazeera: Saudi Arabia could soon allow women lawyers to appear in court to argue cases for the first time.

I was excited – and then slightly underwhelmed to read, as the article goes on to note: “The female lawyers would be able to represent women in marriage, divorce, custody and other family cases”.

Ok, yay for cracking the door open – but this reminds me of women’s role in early policing in this country.  Women police officers in the UK were originally hired (early 1900s) to provide specialist protection for women and children. They were used to interview female suspects and victims, rescue children, and to patrol and supervise “doubtful public venues”.

As Frances Heidensohn observed in her book, “Women in Control?”:

“Police work for women was still defined, and was to remain until well after the Second World War, as a specialist field, mainly confined to moral and sexual matters and inevitably making female officers complicit in the control of their own sex in ways in which men’s behaviour was not controlled”.

In her 2009 HuffPo article, Sabria Jawhar saw the possibility of women appearing in Saudi courts in family cases as nothing more than, “window dressing”.

Sabria explained, “Don’t misunderstand me. I applaud the Ministry of Justice’s attempts to revamp the judicial system. But let’s not fool ourselves that we are seeing great advances in Saudi women’s rights”

Precisely.  I’ll be impressed when a Saudi woman lawyer appears on behalf of a man.

Now, before anyone gets too smug, the battle for equality’s still being fought in the UK.

Sawsan Salim isn’t a lawyer. She is a litigant in person who had the temerity to appear in court without a “male guardian”. The price she’s paying is 300 lashes plus 1 1/2 years in jail. Progress? Read on.