Women risk prison to flee abusive homes in Saudi Arabia

Women use their mobiles during rain in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 16, 2017. (REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser)

Increasing numbers of Saudi women are reportedly fleeing abusive homes — in spite of the fact that the kingdom’s guardianship system allows such runaways to be jailed until their guardian seeks their release.

Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, a 30-year-old healthcare worker named Hala recalled her brother asking about the color of her underwear after she asked him to fix something in her room. The comment wasn’t harmless, she added — her father had already attempted to grope her and even called her on the phone while masturbating after she locked herself in her room. But when Hala tried to run away, her father called again, this time to offer her a choice: come back, or go to jail.

Increasingly, women are willing to take that risk. More than 1,750 women, many of whom were domestic violence victims, ran away from home in 2015, according to the Saudi Ministry of Labor and Social Development. According to activists, many women are finding help escaping through social media.

“Many women reach out to me every day. The number is increasing,” said Taleb Abdulmohsen, a Saudi activist living in Germany who helps organize escapes through Twitter. “They ask me to help them. Most of them don’t have travel permission from their guardian.”

While many women have successfully escaped and hidden themselves elsewhere in Saudi Arabia or even overseas, many others have been caught and jailed for the attempt. Human Rights Watch shared the story of Dina Ali Lasloom, a 24-year-old English teacher who was reportedly detained at the Manila airport until her uncles could collect her and fly her back to Saudi Arabia. With the help of a woman she met in the airport, Lasloom recorded cellphone videos in which she warned that her family would kill her if she was returned home. According to Human Rights Watch, Lasloom was later seen strapped into a wheelchair with duct tape on her mouth, feet, and hands as three middle eastern men and airport officials wheeled her onto a Saudi Arabia Airlines flight to Riyadh.

Hala, for her part, said that she considered fleeing to a shelter, but that the shelter manager had warned her she would no longer have access to her possessions, the internet, social media, or television once she did. She had also received an offer to smuggle her out of the country from a wealthy man, she said, but he demanded that she have sex with him in return.

“I don’t want to leave one prison and go to another,” said Hala.

Read the full story at the Los Angeles Times.


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