CBC’s The Fifth Estate recently aired a story about Rahaf Mohammed’s escape from her family while on a family vacation in Kuwait. The story focused on an underground network of young women supporting each other as they plan their escape to freedom.
One of the women who wished to remain anonymous told the CBC that “no one sleeps” when members of the group are undergoing escapes from their families.
Mohammed’s escape can be described as a dangerous act of bravery, as she risked everything and put her life on the line for freedom. Through the power of social media, the public first found out about her story after Thai officials confiscated her passport and threatened to deport her back to Kuwait, eventually to be returned to Saudi Arabia.
This would be extremely dangerous for this young woman, as she denounced Islam and her abusive family, and fled the country.
In Saudi Arabia, women are legally compared to minors. Under the guardianship system, women must seek permission from their male guardians for many aspects of their lives: to get a job, apply for a passport, marry or leave the country.
Usually, a woman’s male guardian is her father, brother, or husband. Some have classified this system as a form of gender apartheid and called out both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for this anti-human rights practice.
I first heard of the plight of young women and the guardianship system through the story of Latifa Al Maktoum, the daughter of the UAE’s vice president and ruler of Dubai. Al Maktoum disappeared for months after attempting to flee the UAE. I was appalled when I heard of the discrimination, harassment and abuse that women in these countries endure simply because of their gender.
You are bothered and more passionate about issues that hit close to home. As a young person with a disability, I have faced discrimination every day throughout my life, for the sole reason that I am disabled.
I cannot imagine what these women endure on a daily basis. However, I do know how it feels to be treated differently because of the way you were born.
Mohammed was lucky to be able to seek asylum in Canada and grab attention from the world and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, many women fail their attempts to escape and are never heard from again. Others are able to start the asylum process but still face deportation back to their home countries. Many are not as lucky to be granted asylum so quickly as was the case for Mohammed.
As a feminist, and as a person who cares deeply about human rights, I believe it is my moral obligation to sound the alarm bells on this very issue.
If the Queen of England did what the ruler of Dubai is doing to women, the public outcry would be swift and severe. The lives of these women matter. Every human life matters. Canada must use any tool available to it to push for answers in the cases of the women who have gone missing while attempting to flee their home countries. More broadly, it must push for the end of the gender apartheid and the guardianship system in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
When something is not right, we have a duty to act. Canada has taken the first step by granting Mohammed asylum, but we must do more.
We claim to be a rule-of-law country and a country that believes in human rights. We must put our money where our mouth is, and act now. Who knows where these women are or how they’re being treated? The thought is absolutely heartbreaking.
With that said, no matter how much I try, I cannot turn away from the plight of these women or turn my back on their story. Something must be done.