By Lexxi Bursey
Recently in the news you may have heard of an eighteen-year-old girl from Saudi Arabia that has been granted asylum earlier this month in Canada after hiding in Thailand. She was taking refuge in a barricaded Thailand hotel room after landing in Bangkok on January 5th. She took to the social media platform, Twitter, to plead for help and assistance. She posted several photos of herself and her passport at the airport asking for a country to protect her from harm from her country and from her family for leaving. She said there could be possible torture or other forms of harm done to her for leaving her religion and home country. She had originally sought to fly to Australia, however she decided to stay in Thailand.
After her various social media posts, the Thai authorities granted the young female teen access to the U.N. refugee agency. She was shortly thereafter offered asylum in Canada. Someone who seeks asylum is one who has fled their home country from fear and is seeking the international protection in another country. She landed in Toronto on Friday. On average, about one million people seek asylum somewhere every year.
Women’s rights in some of the middle-eastern countries, like Saudi Arabia, are barely anything at all compared to those possessed by women in other civil-rights based countries. Saudi Arabia has long implemented and has enforced the strict “guardianship laws”. These laws are what are preventing women from having a form of employment, electing to have their own surgery, being able to leave the home without asking permission, or divorcing their husband without the consent of their male “guardians”. These guardians, depending on the family status of the woman, can be the husband, the brother, her uncle, or her father. Aside from these laws, there are other rights that women lack such as any basic independent decisions, when they can marry, who they can marry, their religion, the level or the right education, how they can dress, use of public mixed-gender swimming pools, what they can read, trying on clothes, and much more. While there has been some slight, but progressive, reform coming from the king of Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, on women’s rights like being notified of their divorce status by cellular text message and the removal of the ban on driving and operating a vehicle, they are still faced with many problems and a slow, long wait for change to be fully implemented and put into action.
The eighteen-year-old girl seeking asylum claimed she wanted the freedom to make these choices for herself and also wanted her own privacy, denying any more interviews for now. She has also vowed to work and support the freedom for other women around the world. During her interview, she also made it very clear she was very fortunate to have safely received the asylum. She also noted that many, many women do not get this chance, or are harmed during their efforts to do so. She is now a government-assisted refugee, meaning she gets the Canadian government’s financial aid and security through her settlement process, which is usually about a year. Aside from having to adjust to her new life in Toronto, Canada, she also has to learn the English language and other new things which were not available to her in her prior country, Saudi Arabia. These include how to travel around the new city, getting health insurance, creating a bank account, and other necessities. She has also been provided a security guard in hopes to protect from the online threats and prevent harm from any other possible threats made to the teenage girl.
Saudi Arabia’s government and the kingdom is ruled by a king, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah, rose to throne in January of 2015. He has remained allied with the U.S. and has made successful human rights reforms recently, moreover on the rights of women. His actions on women’s rights have led him to be considered bold and a reformer. However, like mentioned before, there are still tight restrictions that come with living in the country. Saudi Arabia is one of the main contributors to the pan-Arab TV industry, however they have one of the most tightly controlled media policies overall. They have not denied that they have strictly enforced internet filtering, which targets any explicit material, Islamic related sites, human rights webpages, and also political sites.