Oppressed women in Arab families

Fiona Ehlers
May 31, 2019, Der Spiegel

“Keep down your voice, lower your eyes”

Princess Latifa planned her escape from her father’s palace in Dubai for seven years – and failed. Every year, hundreds of women leave the Gulf States to escape their husbands and fathers.

Escaped Albolooki (Gene Glover / Der Spiegel)

The two sisters from Saudi Arabia eagerly pick up on what they encounter in the streets of Hong Kong: men in pinstripes, women in breezy dresses on the ferries in Kowloon Bay, night markets, cocktail bars, entertainment districts. The young women enjoy their new freedom, you can see that. They walk around town in ripped jeans and with uncovered hair on a day in March; they have many questions. Best of all, they say, people here like the way they live, what they love, all of which is so exciting.

Then they get into an elevator and sit down at the window of a hotel room high above Hong Kong, the exact location must remain secret, the cell phones are switched off, photos only from behind. As with whistleblowers, these two sisters from Saudi Arabia, 18 and 20 years old, use the names Rawan and Reem, but in reality they’re different.

The sisters tell the story of their escape, cautiously, haltingly, because on this March day they are still afraid that their father could track them down and bring them home by force. Only sometimes they have to laugh out loud. When the younger one, Rawan, curses. Or when Reem recounts how as little girls they toasted with their juice glasses, as they had seen in banned films. And their mother ran out of the room, screaming “haram”, “forbidden.”

Reem and Rawan are two of at least a thousand women who flee Saudi Arabia each year because they can no longer endure the patriarchy and oppression from husbands and fathers – they are called “runaway girls” in their homeland, “runaways.” Rawan doesn’t like the term. She thinks it sounds like they