There are no doubt countless women with similar stories in Saudi Arabia, and they need an effective global feminist foreign policy that protects them
Dahaba Ali Hussen
The Independent Voices
Despite attempts to revamp its image, Saudi Arabia is famed for its questionable treatment of women. The recent case of Rahaf al-Qunun, who was recently granted asylum in Canada after fleeing from her family and barricading herself in a hotel room in Bangkok, is no exception.
The only difference here, is that Al-Qunun’s story had a happy ending. But aside from the unusually positive outcome, her tale is a common one amongst many Saudi women.
Cultural, religious and government laws dictate a woman’s freedom in Saudi Arabia. As a Muslim, I believe that some of the interpretations of Islamic doctrine have been manipulated by certain individuals in power, a classic example of a patriarchal society.
The Wahhabi interpretations of Islam have been used to dictate arbitrary and archaic rules such as (up until recently) forbidding women to drive and move freely without a male escort.
These narrow definitions of gender roles and responsibilities derive from aforementioned religious law. This law, as practised in Saudi Arabia, rests originally on custom or judicial decisions, meaning judges often have free reign.
Al-Qunun alleges that her family subjected her to emotional, psychological and physical abuse. She has spoken of being unable to get an education, in danger of being forced into an arranged marriage and threatened with death due to her abandonment of Islam.
Apostasy (renouncing religious beliefs) in Islam is subject to the death penalty under sharia law in a number of countries. You may read this and think that religion is to blame for these women’s suffering – but that is not necessarily the case.
Just like secular politics, religion can be used in by those with the most influence to control those with the least. We see similar tactics employed in the west on a regular basis.
As I said earlier, al-Qunun case is a rare one. She is from a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, her father is the town governor of al-Sulaimi in the Ha’il region and she managed to successfully generate a Twitter frenzy when she reached out for support.