Rahaf Mohammed is an 18-year-old Saudi teen who had been subject of physical and psychological abuse by her family since she was 16. On 5 January 2019, while she was on vacation with her family in Kuwait, she boarded alone on a flight to Bangkok, Thailand, to escape from further ill-treatment. In Bangkok, a Saudi official seized her passport, after being notified that Rahaf was traveling without her male guardian, namely her father. For this reason, Rahaf was sent to a hotel room, where she barricaded herself and started a social media campaign (#SaveRahaf) on twitter to seek for help from the UNHCR and the international community. Videos from within the hotel room and of her pledge not to leave until she had been seen by the United Nations refugee agency made international headlines. On 12 January, thanks to the cooperation of the UN officials, Rahaf succeeded in taking a flight to Toronto, Canada.
After gaining asylum in Canada, she publicly told about the abuses and violations she had to suffer. She said that leaving was the only chance to survive, for she had nothing to lose. She stated that women in Saudi Arabia “are treated as an object, like a slave”, and that she was beaten up for not praying and locked in the house for six months for cutting her hair without asking for permission. Furthermore, she denounced the male guardianship system, which impedes women from carrying out everyday activities and above all applying for a passport, traveling abroad and choosing their male spouse.
Rahaf reportedly said that she hopes that her decision encourages other Saudi women to “be brave and free.” Unfortunately, the story of Rahaf Mohammed represents one of the multiple cases in which Saudi women jeopardise their lives and decide to flee from Saudi Arabia and seek asylum in foreign countries.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) is relieved to know that Rahaf has found shelter in Toronto and can start a new life. However, we strongly condemn the continuous abuses and deprivations that Saudi women face on a daily basis. Saudi Arabia needs to immediately abolish the male guardianship system and allow women to participate in society with the same rights as men.