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Home / World / Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia: ‘I escaped to seek a better life’

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia: ‘I escaped to seek a better life’



  Salwa image donated to the BBC

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Salwa

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Salwa, 24, ran away from his family eight months ago and asked for asylum in Canada

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It is a dramatic story that has brought back the restrictions faced by women in Saudi Arabia.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, drew global attention last week after locking up

He was fleeing his family to Saudi Arabia and, after promoting a high-profile Twitter campaign, is Canada was granted asylum.

As the debate on women's rights in the country continues, another young woman who fled Saudi Arabia to Canada told her story to the BBC.

Salwa, 24, ran away with her 19-year-old sister eight months ago and now lives in Montreal. This, according to his own words, is his story.

Preparation

We had planned to leave for about six years, but we needed a passport and a national identity card to do so.

I needed my guardian's consent to get these documents. (Women in Saudi Arabia must get a relative's approval for many things).

Fortunately, I already had a national identity card because my family agreed to give me one while I was studying at the university.

had a passport because I needed one to take an English language exam two years ago.

But my family took me away. Somehow, I needed to get it back.

I stole the keys from my brother's house and then I went to the store to get a copy of them. I could not leave the house without their consent, but I snuck out while they were sleeping.

It was very risky because if I were caught then they would hurt me.

Once I had the keys I managed to get my passport, my sister's passport, and I even took my father's phone while he slept.

Using this, I logged in to my account on the Ministry of Internal Affairs website and changed my phone number to my number.

I also used his account to give us consent to leave the country.

The escape

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The two escaped from home and flew to Germany from King Khalid International Airport

We left at night while everyone was asleep. It was very, very, stressful.

We can not drive so we called a taxi. Fortunately, almost all Saudi Arabia taxi drivers come from foreign countries, so they did not see us traveling alone as weird.

We headed to the King Khalid International Airport near Riyadh. If anyone had noticed what we were doing, I think we would have been killed.

For the last year of my education I was working in a hospital and I saved enough money to buy airline tickets and a transit visa for Germany. I also had the money from the unemployment benefits I had saved.

I managed to get on the flight to Germany with my sister. It was the first time I had ever been on a plane and it was fantastic. I felt happy, I felt full of fear, I felt everything.

My father called the police when he realized we were not at home, but at that point it was too late.

Because I had changed the telephone number, his report of the interior ministry, when the authorities tried to call him, actually called me.

When I landed, I even received a message from the police that was intended for my father.

The arrival

There is no life in Saudi Arabia. I just went to the university, then I came home and I did not do anything all day.

They hurt me and told me that things as bad as men are superior. I was forced to pray and fast even in Ramadan.

When I arrived in Germany I went to legal aid to find a lawyer for my asylum application. I filled out some forms and told them my story.

I chose Canada because it has a very good reputation for human rights. I followed the news that Syrian refugees would be resettled and decided it was the best place for me.

My request was accepted and when I landed in Toronto I saw the Canadian flag at the airport and I felt this incredible sense of accomplishment.

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Today I'm in Montreal with my sister and there is no stress. Nobody obliges me to do anything here.

They could have more money in Saudi Arabia, but it's better here because when I want to leave my apartment I can leave. I do not need consent. I go out alone.

It makes me feel really, really, happy. I feel free. I wear only what I want to wear.

I love the colors of autumn and snow here. I'm learning French but it's so hard! I'm also learning to ride a bike and I'm trying to learn how to swim and ice skate.

I feel like I'm doing something with my life.

I have no contact with my family, but I think it's good for me and for them. I feel like this was my home now. It's better here.

As told on BBC radio Gareth Evans and Outside Source on World Service.


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