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Saudi teen's flight rallies opposition to male guardianship

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Saudi teen's flight rallies opposition to male guardianship

Saudi teen's flight rallies opposition to male guardianship

An 18-year-old Saudi woman's flight from what she said was an abusive family has rallied opposition to the kingdom's male guardianship system, still a major constraint on women despite the conservative Muslim country's efforts to open up.

Emily Wither reports.

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Saudi teen's flight rallies opposition to male guardianship

(SOUNDBITE) (English) RAHAF MOHAMMED AL-QUNUN, 18 SPEAKING TO CAMERA AFTER ATTEMPTING TO FLEE FAMILY, SAYING "My name is Rahaf." The teenage Saudi girl who fled her family by hopping on a plane to Thailand has forced a spotlight once again into women's rights in Saudi Arabia's conservative, patriarchal system.

Thai authorities said on Friday that Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun has now been granted asylum in Canada.

It will be a huge jump from what she was born into: what's called a guardianship system, where male relatives take charge of key decisions in a woman's life.

And other women are watching: (SOUNDBITE) (English) MONA EL TAHAWY, COMMENTATOR ON ARAB ISSUES AND GLOBAL FEMINISM, SAYING.

"Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun, mark my words, is going to start a revolution in Saudi Arabia.

Go on social media now and watch the accounts of so many young Saudis saying 'Rahaf you have shown us that we can do this.'" This week "Remove guardianship and we won't all migrate" trended on Twitter in Saudi Arabia.

Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman women can do more.

They can drive now, he's eased restrictions on gender mixing, and women are now taking jobs that were once reserved for men only.

But those changes have been accompanied by a crackdown on women's activists and women still need permission from a male relative to marry, obtain a passport, and travel abroad.

In some countries the fact Rahaf is 18 would have prevented the authorities from telling her family anything about her.

These restrictions last from birth until death.

One woman who claimed to be a 36-year-old physician tweeted she was embarrassed to have two children and a degree from Harvard University but still be viewed as a minor.

Human Rights Watch says the system can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) MIDDLE EAST RESEARCHER AT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, ADAM COOGLE, SAYING: "Internet connectivity in general and chat applications, the ability of Saudi women really for the first time over the last ten years to communicate independently with the outside world, kind of leads to the creation of networks of people who try to help.

So I think that women may actually see this case and attempt to make the journey out which is incredibly dangerous." Rahaf could be considered one of the lucky ones.

Other Saudi women have tried to flee mistreatment only to be forcibly returned to the kingdom and never heard from again.

Rahaf, meanwhile, said on Friday (January 11) that she's deleted her Twitter account after receiving death threats.




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