Saudi women need a political solution that guarantees their security rather than a state that allows them to attend football matches, go to the circus and go to the cinema
Saudi Arabia is facing a social problem that requires an urgent political solution. Runaways of women, estimated at more than a thousand cases, are now common in the media.
Rahaf al-Qunun, the 18-year-old woman who, to escape her family on a trip to Australia, barricaded herself in a hotel room at Bangkok airport, where she shared on social networks her distress and fears of being forced to return to Saudi Arabia, was placed in UN custody to be accepted as a refugee and eventually returned to Canada where she expects to lead a normal life.
Bringing the girls back
The Saudi government may have tried, without success, to force her back. In previous similar cases, Saudi embassy staff had intervened and forced the airport authorities to cooperate and bring the girls back. Rahaf may have been lucky, but Dina Ali Lasloom was not.
In April 2017, Lasloom had made his case public from Manila airport: “They confiscated my passport and locked me up for 13 hours… If my family comes, they will kill me. If I go back to Saudi Arabia, I’ll be killed. Help me, please. »
Thousands of kilometres from Saudi Arabia, the 24-year-old woman was arrested at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport during a stopover en route to Sidney. Two of her uncles, who arrived with the intention of bringing her back to Saudi Arabia, abducted her at the airport.
She screamed and struggled when they forcibly took her on Saudia’s SV871 flight to Jeddah.
The Philippine authorities, signatories to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, denied that they had cooperated with the Saudis in this case. However, forcing an adult to board a plane against her will is not easy without the cooperation of the police and immigration officers at the airport.
In the case of Dina Ali Lasloom, airline security officials and two men ensured her forced repatriation to Saudi Arabia, according to witness accounts.
The distress of Saudi women
In May 2017, just one month after the Lasloom case, which was hotly debated in the Saudi press and internationally, two sisters, Ashwaq and Arij Hamoud, fled to Turkey to seek asylum, according to several short videos they recorded on their mobile phones.
They posted the videos online and claimed that their families had physically abused them and forced them to live like prisoners in their own homes. According to an article, the Turkish authorities arrested the runaway sisters, aged 18 and 19, following their family’s request to return them through the Saudi embassy.
The cases of Dina, Ashwaq, Arij and now Rahaf, among others, confirm a persistent narrative of the plight of Saudi women who are corseted by their families, religion, state, culture and the cooperation of foreign governments.
These cases all dealt with two issues: first, the guardianship system, which is perhaps the most restrictive in the Muslim world in terms of women’s autonomy, freedom and choice. This limits women in a way that cannot be imagined in other countries. A woman is not a person legally and remains unable to lead a life free from the authority of others, mainly her male relatives.
The guardianship system (wilaya or wisaya) is not legally codified but is implemented through a series of informal and formal bureaucratic arrangements stipulating that a father, husband, brother or even son has absolute power to approve matters that dictate women’s daily lives.
Failure of the State
In the courts, the judges who apply Sharia law, according to the most restrictive interpretations of hanbalism, side with male parents and defend the wilaya system. State institutions (hospitals, schools, universities, employers, etc.) continue to require the approval of male guardians before dealing with women. Education, health, travel, work and marriage, among other areas, require the approval of the tutor.
In addition, the problem of women running away is a consequence of the inability of State institutions to ensure their safety and protection. Women accused of transgression may be detained in special centres run by the State. They cannot be released unless a guardian agrees to sign their discharge documents.
If a woman is abused by her father and runs away and then is arrested by the authorities, it is this father who must present himself as her guardian to allow her to regain her freedom. The contradiction of the system is obvious: the aggressor remains his guardian.
So why do so many Saudi women flee the country – often being forcibly returned? This is what is happening in the midst of the euphoria generated by the Crown Prince’s many social reforms. We are told that women can now drive, go to the movies and attend concerts. However, these apparent new freedoms did not deter these women from fleeing the country.