The Saudi teen who fled her family for asylum in Canada says her story will open the floodgates for more women to escape oppression

ABC NewsRahaf al-Qunun spoke with ABC News after she arrived as an asylum seeker in Canada on January 12, 2019.
  • The Saudi teen who fled her family and got asylum in Canada said her journey will help more women flee from oppression there.
  • Rahaf al-Qunun fled on January 5 and went viral with live social media posts from Bangkok airport, where she barricaded herself in a hotel room.
  • She gave her first TV interview on Monday and spoke about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia.
  • She said: “I think that the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase.”
  • In Saudi Arabia women are controlled by their male guardians and have to get permission to leave the country, get married, or go to school outside their hometown.
  • “I hope my story prompts a change to the laws, especially as it’s been exposed to the world,” she said. “This might be the agent for change.”

The Saudi teen who fled her family and found a new home in Canada says that her story will open the floodgates for more women to escape oppression in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to broadcast media for the first time on Monday from her new home in Toronto, she said more women will escape Mohammed bin Salman’s regime, and hoped that her case could be a spark to ignite change.

“I’m sure that there will be a lot more women running away,” she told Australia’s ABC News. “I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free.”

Canada granted Rahaf al-Qunun asylum after she fled to Thailand to escape her family on January 5.

al-Qunun became stranded in Bangkok airport while she tried to get a connecting flight to Australia, and barricaded herself in a hotel room to avoid deportation. She was given refugee status by the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees on January 9, allowing Canada to offer her asylum.

In the interview on Monday, al-Qunun said: “I think that the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase, especially since there is no system to stop them.”

She said: “I hope my story prompts a change to the laws, especially as it’s been exposed to the world.”

“This might be the agent for change,” she said.

al-Qunun will use her newfound freedom to campaign for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, ABC said.

In Saudi Arabia women are subject to the male guardianship system, which requires women to have male approval for everyday things like working or travelling. Guardians are usually fathers or brothers, but can sometimes be younger relatives, like sons.

Women need permission to to leave the country, go to school outside their hometown, access health care, study abroad, exit prison, and get married.

Rahaf al qununABC NewsRahaf al-Qunun said she was upset by the news her family had disowned her, speaking here to ABC on January 14, 2019.

Al-Qunun was critical of the system in the interview on Monday. When asked why she left, she said she wanted to be “free from oppression and depression,” to “to marry the person I wanted,” and to “get a job without permission.”

She said: “The Saudi administration outlines a woman’s life; what job she can hold, what work she can do. Women can’t even travel on their own.”


Read more:
Saudi Arabia made Netflix delete a comedy show that accused it of covering up Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to protect its crown prince

The risk involved in leaving Saudi Arabia is high, but worth it, al-Qunun told Canada’s CBC news channel on Monday.

“It’s something that is worth the risk I took,” she said.

Saudi women who have tried to get asylum have spoken about the harsh criticism they get after they leave.

Al-Qunun suspended her Twitter account during her escape after she received death threats, according to Human Rights Watch, and Danah Almayouf, who fled Saudi Arabia in 2016, said she was also sent death threats when she left to seek asylum in the US.

On Monday, al-Qunun’s relatives disowned her.

They said: “We disavow the so-called ‘Rahaf al-Qunun’ the mentally unstable daughter who has displayed insulting and disgraceful behaviour,” in a statement reported by Australia’s ABC News.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.