Published: Tue, January 15, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Saudi teen says she wants to work for freedom for women

Saudi teen says she wants to work for freedom for women

Ms al-Qunun says 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 overseas in recent years and returned home.

"I know that there are unlucky women who disappeared after trying to escape or who could not do anything to change their reality", the 18-year-old said in her first public statement since her arrival on Saturday.

Qunun grabbed global attention last week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies abusing her. Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia. Once there, she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and tweeted about her situation, gaining worldwide sympathy and prompting the United Nations refugee agency to seek a home for her.

Her situation has highlighted the issue of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been denied asylum overseas and returned home in recent years.

In her CBC interview, Qunun said: "I felt that I could not achieve my dreams that I wanted as long as I was still living in Saudi Arabia".

After she learned on social media that her family had disowned her, Alqunun said she'd like to drop her family name and go by Rahaf Mohammed, the Toronto Starreports. "Today I can proudly say that I am capable of making all those decisions", she said. Had she stayed in Saudi Arabia, "I wouldn't have been able to marry the person I wanted". "I want to do insane things I've never done before", she said.

"Today, and for years to come, I will work in support of freedom for women around the world.the same freedom I experienced on my first day I arrived in Canada".

The 18-year-old now plans to pursue an education, get a job and live a normal life in Canada - things she said she could not do in her home of Saudi Arabia.

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"I had no say in any of this".

Canada's acceptance of a Saudi Arabian teenager seeking asylum is sparking debate within the country about loosening laws restricting women's freedom, but also a backlash that could initially repress more women, analysts say.

"My life was in danger and I felt I had nothing to lose", al-Qunun said.

She says she spent months planning her escape before implementing her risky plan on January 5.

Costi has also hired private security for Mohammed, following a number of threats the young woman has received online. "We make sure she is never alone", he said.

"Social media may now be a tool for them", Calla said. He called her a strong-willed individual, noting that's how she got here.

UNHCR spokeswoman Lauren La Rose said the fact she was processed so quickly is a credit to those that made it happen.

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