Why Saudi Women Are Threatening to Leave the Country en Masse

Women in Saudi Arabia are threatening to leave the country if the Saudi government does not make reforms, including an end to the male guardianship system. Inspired by 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, the mass emigration threats began after the teenager was detained in Thailand.

In the days surrounding Rahaf’s dramatic fight for asylum, an Arabic hashtag meaning “remove the guardianship system or we’ll all migrate” began trending on social media in Saudi Arabia, appearing in over 63,000 tweets.

One Saudi medical student posted a video on Twitter saying the guardianship system, “is causing women to dream about living elsewhere, away from where they were born and raised. Why? Because living here suffocates them.”

“Saudi society, in general, has utterly failed to come to terms with the reality that women have an equal desire for self-actualisation,” tweeted one Saudi man.

One woman who has a degree from Harvard and two children, lamented that she was still considered a minor.

“I am trusted to make life and death decisions for patients, trusted to raise kids … but not trusted to make my own decisions regarding MY life. The irony! #EndMaleGuardianship,” she tweeted.

Rahaf made international news when she fled her family while on vacation in Kuwait and made her way to Thailand, where she barricaded herself in her hotel room. Rahaf claimed Saudi officials forcibly took her passport from her. She documented her experiences on social media, while Thai immigration officials surrounded her door.

Rahaf feared her family would kill her if she were forced to return to Saudi Arabia. Reports say this fear was in part because Rahaf had publicly denounced Islam, which is illegal in her country.

“My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” she said, “I’m sure, 100%, they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail.”

Rahaf was able to successfully secure asylum in Canada, but women in Saudi Arabia are still fighting for their right to be recognized as fully-autonomous human beings. Despite some recent reforms, like the lift on female driving ban, Saudi women still suffer under the male guardianship system, in which each woman is assigned a male guardian who has control over many of her basic life choices. Under the system, women are treated as legal minors.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch called the guardianship system the most “significant impediment to realizing women’s rights in the country.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images

88 comments

Shirley Plowman
Shirley P19 days ago

DIFFICULT WAT TO LIVE.

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Val P
Val P21 days ago

interesting

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini22 days ago

Karen Swenson
Yes I agree we've probably taken this conversation as far as it will go. I too have enjoyed the discussion and return the compliments with thanks! I have to say I am grateful to Care2 Causes for giving me the opportunity to exchange views with so many people I would never otherwise have come across.

Just quickly, to complete your point below, yes, think of all the 'right-minded' women who hotly contested the suffragettes.....

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Karen S
Karen Swenson22 days ago

@Annabel Bedini--I think we have beat this horse to death, so all I will say is, I never meant that we ever interfere with Muslim Countries religion, because that is something we will never win. As you have said, it has to come from within and it is starting with women being sick and tired of this childish behavior. The fight will not be only with the men, but some conservative Fundamentalist Muslim women, who will speak out against these brave women, just like some women do here with Feminism. And when other women have fought tooth and nail, risked death, jail, torture, to free their sisters, these same women will greedily reap all the benefits, but will still cowardly lament on how they hate this hard fought freedom and it just wasn't necessary. I know there are all kinds of nuances to consider. I applaud your hard work, as an activist and wish you nothing but the best. I enjoy your posts and think you are a very knowledgeable, intelligent woman--thanks for the conversation and your insight.

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini23 days ago

Karen Swenson
The point is, it's a long historical process, changing the mind set of an entire culture. As an Amnesty International activist I have years of experience of petitioning Islamic governments in favour of women who have fallen foul of Islamic law, and I have seen how our actions can back fire. In the face of criticism from the 'Christian' West it's human nature to push back with 'How dare you interfer'. Any diplomat will tell you respectul dialogue is more likely to work than aggressive confrontation which simply strengthens your defence of own position (here's where my plea not to inflame anti-Muslim feelings comes in because that automatically inflames anti-Christian feelings. An escalating and increasingly entrenched tit for tat). Also all change has to happen from WITHIN, not by pressure from the outside. At the present moment Muslim women are gradually and courageously working towards gaining their rights, as Christian women have done over the centuries (and are still doing come to that). We need them to know we back them, but they themselves will tell you it's counterproductive and puts them into further danger if it's seen that Western women are campaigning openly in their favour. It's an extremely delicate situation and we need to be very careful not to jump right in with our big righteous boots where we would do better to tiptoe round the edge. As I say, this is a loooong, sloooow historical process.

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Karen Swenson
Karen Swenson23 days ago

I will always support Muslim women; it is the Islamic Religion I will never support. The two can be separated, as with Christianity. I take issue with people who will never criticize Islam for fear of inflaming anti Muslim feelings. The more we cater to that fear, the worse Islam and other Religions will become in its treatment of women. It has only been recently that anyone dared to speak out about the sacred cow, Christianity, and now other Religions are being called out on their hypocrisy, abuses, and foolishness. They lose power and influence when this happens. We are not living under Islamic law and we have the power of Freedom of Speech. We have laws regarding persecution, or crusades against a certain religion, race, gender, etc. I do say it is up to them to change their behavior, because it is, but we do not have to fear and keep silent about their abuses either. Nothing changes if it is never challenged. The Muslim women are challenging the status quo, under great threat to themselves and their families and putting aside the fear that it may turn into a crusade against Islam. If they are brave enough to do that, I will support them in their endeavor, whatever the outcome. As I see it, and obviously lots of Muslim Women see it, the conflict and tragedy, is living under these ridiculous male/religious restrictions.

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini24 days ago

Karen Swenson
Sorry, I don't know why the below has come out addressed to Kare! I'm sure I wrote your name correctly!

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini24 days ago

Kare
Yes it's a tragedy or worse that males hijacked the two most widespread world religions, Islam and Christianity, neither of whose founders advocated the suppression of women. With Islam the trouble started with the Hadith, the 'sayings' later attributed to the Prophet, with Christianity it started with St Paul (though in the early Church women worked in the ministry side by side with men, so the rot set in later).

In case you haven't read it, one thing the practicalethics paper pointed out was the parallel between FGM and male circumcision, another unnecessary and invasive surgical intervention performed on children's reproductive organs. In both cases, the effect is a lowering of sexual sensitivity. Reading this, the thought came to me that at its deepest roots, human kind is frightened by its sexuality. As women are the object of male sexuality they must be controlled at all costs. Does that make sense?

In any case, my worry is that in the present climate we must try to avoid inflaming anti-Muslim feeling. You say it's up to them to change their behaviour. I remind you that Islam is historically several hundred years behind Christianity with its own sloooooow advance in acknowledging the equal status of women. I mean, this is a long historical process and all we can do is support Muslim women when and where we can without turning it into a crusade against Islam, which as we know only leads to conflict and more tragedy.

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Karen Swenson
Karen Swenson24 days ago

it is theirs--Own it!

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Karen Swenson
Karen Swenson24 days ago

Annabel Bedini--being an Atheist I have equal distaste for all religions. It is said, that whatever the Religion, they cannot resist their relentless quest in controlling women. If you read my comment, I did allude to--it was a Male thing--it always has been a Male thing, sanctioned by Religion/culture. I do believe it was you that said it wasn't misogyny, but the idea that men think they are superior to women---which is the very definition of Misogyny. And many men have a deep seated fear/hatred of women here and around the world, which is absolutely true, or we wouldn't be having this conversation about the disgusting treatment of women, by male dominate Countries. This is not to say all women are perfect beings. However, we are deserving of the same rights, justice and opportunities as imperfect Males. Common sense would have told me that I wouldn't have had to do a study, or read an article, to know there are NOT any health benefits for FGM, anymore than there were health benefits for foot binding or chastity belts, but that's just me. This is a Muslim thing, plus a Male thing and the onus is on them to worry about avoiding anti-Muslim prejudice, regardless of the differences. How can you seriously treat half of the population in your Country like domestic animals, have the women threatening to leave the Country in mass, and then expect fair and balanced treatment for yourselves, no matter your religion or ethnicity

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