An 18-year-old Saudi woman who wanted to escape an oppressive life slipped away from her family while they were on vacation in Kuwait and boarded a plane for Thailand, en route to Australia where she hoped to find freedom.
But in Bangkok, a man was waiting, with her name written on a placard. He convinced her to hand over her passport and disappeared with the document.
When she realized what had happened, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun barricaded herself in a hotel room at the Thailand airport to prevent her forced return to Saudi Arabia, where she feared her family would kill her. From behind a mattress used to block the door, she went on social media to alert the world of her situation. The Twitter hashtag #SaveRahaf was soon trending.
The UN (United Nations) granted Alqunun refugee status, and Canada fast-tracked an application for asylum, opening their doors to her.
Alqunun has drawn worldwide attention to the ongoing struggle of Saudi women.
In Saudi Arabia, she was once locked in a room for six months because she had cut her hair in a way that her family did not approve of.
Her family beat her.
When she was 16, she tried to kill herself and, without support and help from her family following the attempt, she decided instead to plan her escape.
guardianship laws remain in place under MBS (Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman)
From childhood through adulthood, every Saudi woman is controlled by male guardians, who make decisions about her life. These legal guardians may be a father or husband, but can also be a brother or even a son.
Guardianship laws mean that women need to get permission to travel, marry, divorce, access education and medical treatment, and leave prison.
Women must receive permission to renew their passports and leave the country.
While women have recently been allowed to drive for the first time, a bunch of women’s rights activists were imprisoned for campaigning for the right to drive.
women can’t marry without permission
Yet, a man can divorce his wife without the woman’s consent.
Recently, a law was passed that requires men to notify women by text message that their marriages had been terminated.
Recently, women were allowed into a special section in some sports stadiums for the first time. They had previously been banned from attending all sporting events.
Still, unrelated men and women are not allowed to hang out. Women are expected to cover themselves. Confinement at home or in a prison-like facility are routine punishments for breaking the law or dress code.
reasons to be afraid
Alqunun travelled without permission. She has appeared in public without her head or body covered. She met men who are not close relatives.
She has renounced Islam, which, under Saudi law, is punishable by death.
Her father is a senior provincial official, and would be under pressure to deal severely with his daughter.
Geek out on just enough background to understand why and how conservatism remains important in Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) promised to modernize Saudi Arabia. Did he? Check out the debate here.