Rahaf case reignites debate on women's rights in Saudi Arabia

The story of the 18 year old Saudi has sparked online discussion on male protection. A part of the country - even men - call for the end of an outdated practice. The hashtag "We will all emigrate" becomes viral. But the conservative faction condemns the girl for dishonoring her family.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The story of Saudi 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, still stuck in Thailand awaiting a visa for Australia, to which the UN has granted refugee status, has reopened the debate on the rights of women and male protection in the country. In these hours a (rare) online discussion has opened and several people, among them men, have asked for the end of an outdated practice.

In Saudi Arabia, women are repressed for their activism and the so-called "reforms" of the hereditary prince Mohammad bin Salman (Mbs), including the end of the ban on driving, have barely been implemented. The obligation of a male guardian is considered as a form of gender apartheid, which binds the woman to her male "guardian" be it the father, the husband or a male relative.

It is up to the man to give the woman permission to study, to get married, to renew her passport and even to be able to receive medical treatment. A young Internet user named Bandar, a medical student, confirms that "guardianship gives men the final word over women". "He can control her - she adds - he can bite, beat, do what he wants and no [government] agency can do anything to stop it". This is why, she concludes, "women dream of living elsewhere, far from where they were born and raised".

A hashtag has gone viral among internet users in Saudi Arabia, which calls for " Drop guardianship or all of us will migrate."". Another Internet user named Ahmad Nasser al-Shathri underlines the "failure" to come to terms with "reality" and that "women have the same aspiration for self-realization". Their aspiration, he adds, cannot be just that of "taking care of the home, which paralyzes our social growth".

Rahaf's story, fleeing in search for freedom and rights, has simultaneously raised outrage, fierce criticism and harsh accusations from the conservative and religious wing. A (substantial) part of the country believes that the young woman has dishonored her family and shows solidarity with her parents, especially her father and brother.

So far there have been no official reactions from the government and the highest political and religious authorities. Officials close to the government explain that they are trying to dismantle the system without tearing it apart, to avoid the reaction of ultra-conservatives. Meanwhile, terrible stories emerge such as that of a woman forced to remain imprisoned, because no male guardian came to claim her. Or another woman who could not renew her passport because her father is in a coma.