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With Meghna Chakrabarti
A Saudi teen who fled her allegedly abusive family is granted asylum in Canada. We’ll look at what’s changing and what’s not for women in Saudi Arabia.
Sarah Aziza, journalist covering human rights and women's issues in the Middle East. She lived in Saudi Arabia for six years. Her reporting in the New Yorker reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center. (@SarahAziza1)
Yasmine Mohammed, Canadian human rights activist who was in touch with Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. Founder of Free Hearts, Free Minds, an organization that provides psychological support for ex-Muslims living within Muslim-majority countries. (@ConfessionsExMu)
"Laura," who fled from Saudi Arabia in 2013 after suffering abuse for more than a decade.
From The Reading List
The New Yorker: "The Saudi Government’s Global Campaign to Silence Its Critics" — "On the morning of August 18, 2017, Rana deboarded her Saudia Airlines flight in Munich, Germany, bleary-eyed and clutching a small leather bag. Her husband, a near-stranger whom she had married two days earlier, in Riyadh, with the stroke of her father’s pen, marched ahead of her. As the couple approached passport control, he reluctantly handed Rana her passport, which he had taken before landing. Rana stole a glance inside to insure that the note she had scribbled in the airplane’s bathroom was still tucked between the newly minted pages. The line crawled forward. Rana’s heart pounded. A German officer processed her husband’s paperwork, then waved Rana over. Rana slid her documents to the official on the other side of the glass window. Inside, a short plea, written in English, read, 'i want to apply for asylum.' And then, in shaky German, 'mein Mann weiß nicht'—'my husband doesn’t know.'
"The moment had been a lifetime in the making. Rana’s earliest memories were dominated by the violent fits of her father, whose abuse once drove her mother to run away, with Rana, then just a toddler, in tow. The experience served as an early lesson on Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal norms. Rana’s mother, under pressure from her family, abandoned her hopes for a divorce and returned to her husband. Later, she explained her reasoning to Rana: it is better to suffer abuse inside a respectable marriage, she said, than to live as a woman in disgrace.
"At school, Rana chafed under long hours of religious instruction, which taught her to fear hellfire and respect men as fundamentally superior. At Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, a brief phase of online activism landed her at the disciplinary office, where the administration threatened police action. Later, while trying to help a friend suffering from domestic violence, Rana was rebuffed by authorities for attempting to file a police report. After college, Rana’s hopes for a career as an English translator were repeatedly blocked by her father, who considered the prospect shameful. She was eventually able to start a small phone-repair business with several female friends, but she was soon confronted by her worst nightmare: her parents arranged for her marriage. On their first meeting, her young suitor informed her that he’d expect to start having children immediately, and that she would devote herself to child-rearing. 'I saw him, and I saw the end of my life,' she told me.
BBC: "Rahaf Mohammed: Saudi teen says women 'treated like slaves'" — "A Saudi teenager given asylum in Canada after fleeing her family has said the journey was 'worth the risk' so she could live a more independent life.
"Rahaf Mohammed, 18, made headlines when she flew to Thailand and barricaded herself in a hotel while appealing on Twitter for help to avoid deportation.
"She said she feared being killed if she was sent back to her family.
"'It's something that is worth the risk I took,' she told the Toronto Star and CBC News. 'I had nothing to lose.'
"'We are treated as an object, like a slave,' she said. 'I wanted to tell people my story and about what happens to Saudi women.' "
Washington Post: "For teen who fled Saudi Arabia, a new life in Canada starts with a new name" — "From now on, she will be known as Rahaf Mohammed.
"The Saudi teenager, who fled Saudi Arabia for Thailand and was later granted asylum in Canada, has decided to drop her surname, Alqunun, and use her former middle name, Mohammed. Her decision was announced Tuesday at a news conference in Toronto, where Mohammed read a statement from a piece of paper.
"'I would like to start by saying thank you,' she said. 'I am one of the lucky ones. I know there are unlucky women who disappeared after trying to escape or could not do anything to change their reality.'
"The 18-year-old’s escape during a family holiday in Kuwait drew worldwide attention. Mohammed flew to Australia and then to Thailand, where she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room, opened a Twitter account and started to write. She posted that family members had threatened to kill her, that she was abused and treated like a slave."
Time: "Saudi Refugee in Canada Expects More Women to Flee Arabian Kingdom" — "A Saudi woman accepted as a refugee in Canada has said in an Australian television interview that she expected her experience would inspire other women to flee her homeland.
"Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview recorded in Toronto and broadcast in Australia on Tuesday that she hoped that the international attention on her flight from oppression in Saudi Arabia will be a catalyst for change.
"'I think the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase, especially since there is no system to stop them,' Alqunun said.
"'I’m sure that there will be a lot more women running away. I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free. I hope my story prompts a change to the law, especially as it’s been exposed to the world. This might be the agent for change,' she added."
Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.
This program aired on January 17, 2019.
- Years Before Rahaf Mohammed, Another Saudi Woman Escaped. This Is Her Story
- 18-Year-Old Saudi Refugee Sheds Light On Male Guardianship In Middle East
- Saudi Woman Who Fled Country Hopes She Inspires Others To Follow
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