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Girls & Women

Teen Barricades Herself in Hotel Room to Escape Saudi Arabia's Sexist Laws


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Strict laws around the world stop women from receiving basic rights. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is in Bangkok attempting to flee Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws, which require women to seek permission before doing most things. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman, barricaded herself in an airport hotel in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport this weekend to avoid being deported on her way to seek asylum in Australia, Reuters reports. She claims she was escaping her allegedly abusive family.

Qunun had been vacationing with her family in Kuwait last week when she ran away and boarded a plane to Bangkok Saturday en route to Australia, according to NPR. Thai security stopped her by the request of the Saudi embassy, proceeded to take her passport, and held her in a hotel room. Officials were planning to send her back to Kuwait until she received international press attention after live-tweeting her situation. 

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Qunun’s passport was returned to her on Monday and she’s currently under protection with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, as it assesses her request for refugee status. 

She told the BBC her family became abusive when she renounced Islam. Under Saudi Arabia’s Islamic male guardianship system, women require approval from a male relative for basic rights like enrolling in school, working, traveling, and more. 

“Physical, emotional, and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months. They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education,” Qunun explained to Reuters. 

“My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things,” she went on.

Qunun’s relatives have yet to comment on her accusations of abuse.

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Qunun posted on Twitter that her father, a senior government official, showed up at the Bangkok airport. She wrote his arrival scared her “a lot.” 

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told NPR a group of Thai lawyers helped stop airport officials from deporting Qunun. 

Human rights advocates warn Saudi Arabia male guardianship travel restrictions make it extremely difficult for women and girls to escape abusive families. 

“Rahaf is at risk of great harm if Thai authorities deport her back to Saudi Arabia via Kuwait,” Samah Hadid, Middle East director of campaigns at human rights organization Amnesty International, said in a statement. 

“She has expressed clear fears for her safety if she returns to her family, and could face criminal charges in Saudi Arabia for disobeying laws on male guardianship,” Hadid explained.

Saudi women who stand up against the country’s oppressive laws under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have experienced serious consequences. Despite progress like the lifted decades-long driving ban, dozens of rights activists have been detained and tortured

Robertson, of Human Rights Watch, told NPR that Qunun is "incredibly courageous and brave, and she's exhausted, but she is prepared to fight to the end."

People around the world have taken to social media to send Qunun their support.