From Rahaf to the grasshoppers

January 16, 2019
Halima Muzaffar


THE world media, human rights organizations and the United Nations were busy the past week with the case of Rahaf Al-Qunun, the Saudi Arabian girl who fled her family in Kuwait and escaped first to Thailand and then to Canada.

From her accent, it looks like her family had given her a good education. However, the same world media and the rights groups did not pay any attention to the battered girls who escape from their poor families all over the world on a daily basis.

Girls escaping from their homes is not a strange phenomenon in Arab societies nor rare at an international level. This happens even in very open societies for many reasons. Some girls escape because of violence, harassment, drugs and relationships. Others escape because of the family's poor financial conditions.

The law does not prevent girls who flee their families in foreign countries from traveling abroad, if they have attained the legal age. However, only a very few of them manage to build a good life for themselves afterward. Most of them become homeless and turn to prostitution, begging and crime, and are eventually deported by the host country.

To get asylum in any country is not an easy task; the authorities ask for proof of political or religious persecution in their homeland.

The international spotlight on a recalcitrant Saudi girl is not something new and Rahaf will not be the last. It is simply because they carry the Saudi Arabian nationality.

We will not be surprised if the international media highlights the swarms of grasshoppers invading a Saudi school following a heavy rain. We will not be surprised either by the global attention given to a Saudi Arabian girl who escaped from the country because of family issues. This is the fate of Saudi Arabia.

The country is always in the spotlight for the wrong reasons because it is targeted by hate-mongers, especially after the huge development it witnessed over the past decades. This is also because Saudi Arabia has great sway in forming global opinion and determining the balance of international economy and politics.

In short, the Rahaf case is purely a family matter. No one knew about Rahaf until her escape from her family, nor was she involved in any known public activities. Her problem does not have anything to do with the Saudi government and all the statements released by the Thai authorities prove that. Despite these facts, many were trying to use her story to harm the image of the country, of course without any effect. It will not hinder the Saudi government from continuing the reform programs to empower women in society.

Rahaf's story and other similar stories will not prevent the debate on family violence and cases where women are deprived of the right to marriage, which in most cases force them to escape from their families and take shelter in social protection homes. The regulations of the social protection homes need to be reviewed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development to develop it to protect all battered women and to ensure their welfare.

As for not allowing women to travel abroad without the approval of a male guardian, it needs to be reviewed. It is embarrassing for a woman in her 40s to seek the permission of her teenage son to travel. And a hard-working female student who wants to seek higher education abroad cannot be deprived of her dream just because her uncle, who is her guardian, is busy with the affairs of his own family. In many cases, it was proved that the guardianship was used for blackmailing and denying women their rights, including the right to travel.

January 16, 2019
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