A Saudi woman who turned her back on her country of birth and her Muslim religion expects her experience of being accepted as a refugee in Canada to inspire other women to follow her.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview recorded in Toronto and broadcast in Australia Tuesday she hoped the glare of international attention her flight from oppression in Saudi Arabia generated will be a catalyst for change.
“I think the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase, especially since there is no system to stop them,” she said in what was her first interview since landing in Canada. “I’m sure that there will be a lot more women running away. I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free.
“I hope my story prompts a change to the law, especially as it’s been exposed to the world. This might be the agent for change,” she added.
What was the major draw of leaving Saudi Arabia for Alqunun?
“I wanted to be free from abuse and depression. I wanted to be independent. I wouldn’t be able to marry the person I wanted to. I couldn’t get a job without permission.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last Friday Canada would accept Alqunun as a refugee. Her situation has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home against their will.
Alqunun said she felt “like I was born again” when she was met at Toronto airport on Saturday by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“It was something amazing. There was a lot of love and hospitality, especially when the minister welcomed me and told me I was in a safe country and had all my rights,” Alqunun said.
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