'Revolution'

Saudi Arabian women threaten to flee country en masse if they are not given basic rights

Women walk on Tahlia street in the Saudi capital Riyadh on September 24, 2017, during celebrations for the anniversary of the founding of the kingdom. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

A growing wave of Saudi Arabian women are threatening to flee the country if the government doesn’t pursue measures to end a male guardianship system that bars women from doing basic activities, including traveling or going to the doctor, without the permission of men.

On social media, women posted using an Arabic language hashtag that roughly translates to: “remove the guardianship system or we’ll all migrate,” with some writing that they had been inspired by the recent case of Saudi Arabian teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who had her passport confiscated by Saudi diplomats in Thailand after attempting to seek asylum in Australia but managed to avoid forced deportation home after posting about her situation to social media and being granted protection from the U.N. refugee agency. In one video shared by Rahaf, a Saudi diplomat appeared to confirm the effectiveness of the social media effort after she recorded video of him complaining: “I wish they could have taken her phone, rather than her passport.” On Friday, Rahaf was granted asylum in Canada, according to Thai officials.

Following news of Rahaf’s story, the migration-threat hashtag began to trend on Saudi social media — despite the country’s infamous reputation for arresting people, and especially women, over even minor instances of dissent.

“Mark my words, [Rahaf] is going to start a revolution in Saudi Arabia,” said Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy in a recent video posted to Twitter under the migration threat hashtag. The guardianship system, she added, is “the foundation of patriarchy in Saudi Arabia.”

In another post, a doctor spoke out about her shame of being treated as a child by men despite the fact that she often made life and death decisions for her patients.

“We have been attacked, jailed, tortured, and shamed,” wrote another woman using the now viral hashtag. “But with every passing day we grow stronger, braver, and smarter.”

Read the full story at TIME magazine.

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