‘The last power these men have over women’: Fate of Saudi teen sheds light on male guardianship laws

When Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun fled her family with plans to seek asylum in Australia, she ran into an obstacle along the way: a layover in Thailand.

Upon her arrival in Bangkok, officials seized her passport and threatened to deport her back to her family. So the 18-year-old, who had traveled from Kuwait, locked herself in a hotel room at the airport and began to tell her story on social media, claiming she had to escape her abusive family and feared they would kill her. When she heard news that her father had landed in Thailand to try to bring her home, she tweeted that it “worried and scared” her.

Her demands to meet with the U.N. refugee agency worked, and her plight went viral. On Friday, Surachate Hakparn, who heads Thailand’s immigration bureau, said “the story ends today.”

“Ms. Rahaf is going to Canada as she wishes,” he said. As The Washington Post reported, she left Thailand to be resettled in Canada, and Hakparn said that when she departed, she had a “smiling face.”

Alqunun’s struggle to leave her family, even as an adult, drew attention to Saudi Arabia’s restrictive male guardianship laws. As a woman, even though she is 18, it remains illegal in Saudi Arabia for Alqunun to travel without permission from a male guardian. Despite some reforms by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, such as lifting a ban on female drivers, the guardianship law remains firmly in place in Saudi Arabia, and a number of female activists who led the calls for changes to the driving law remain in detention.

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