THE BLOG
01/17/2019 15:42 EST | Updated 01/17/2019 15:53 EST

Canadians Should Be Inspired By Rahaf Mohammed's Courage

Yet since her arrival in Canada, the 18-year-old has been subject to hateful online trolls

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, pauses as she addresses the media during a press conference in Toronto at the offices of COSTI, a refugee resettling agency, on Jan. 15, 2019.
COLE BURSTON via Getty Images
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, pauses as she addresses the media during a press conference in Toronto at the offices of COSTI, a refugee resettling agency, on Jan. 15, 2019.

Rahaf Mohammed may be free of the oppression she suffered at home in Saudi Arabia, but she worries about her sisters.

She worries for her actual little sister still at home and still under the guardianship of an older brother – a man who beat Rahaf and locked her in a room for six months for cutting her hair. She also worries for the sisters she's never met across Saudi Arabia who remain oppressed.

She worries about the friends she sent a desperate note to as she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel as she attempted to flee to Australia, tweeting out her fear of being forced back to Saudi Arabia, where she dreaded being killed for defying the demands of her family.

Canadians Should Be Inspired By Rahaf Mohammed's

She had good reason to fear, of course. Just two years ago, a young Saudi woman attempted a similar escape to Australia, making it only as far as the Manila airport. She was afraid her uncles would come to get her, and as she spoke with a Canadian woman she approached for help, she looked up, saw her uncles and said, "They're here."

Those were the last words anyone heard from — aside from screams through the duct tape over her mouth as she was forced on a plane. She has not been heard from since, and is believed to be in prison, along with the women who tried to meet her as she landed on Saudi Arabia.

A video of Lasloom's plea for freedom went viral only after she'd already been abducted. Mohammed could not let the same thing happen to her.

This Saturday, women across Canada and around the world will march for women's rights in a now-annual event that began with the inauguration of Donald Trump two years ago.

If we are going to push back against right-wingers who want to role back women's rights, the goal of Saturday's march, we need more women like Mohammed in this country. She no doubt knows better than anyone the threats women face when their rights are not respected.

The tragic fate of Lasloom is proof enough that women in Saudi Arabia face grave dangers for expressing themselves in even minor ways, such as cutting their hair.

Women in Saudi Arabia cannot work, can't marry and can't travel without the permission of their male guardians. In Mohammed's case, that guardian was her older brother, who was handed that responsibly by their father — an emir in the kingdom who lived with his other wife and family.

In other words, she treated like a possession, her every move and every decision determined by men.

It is hardly surprising, then, that as she holed up in that Bangkok hotel room, the mattress and any furniture she could move pushed up against the door, Mohammed had no idea who to trust as weighed the danger of going public against the danger of opening the door.

She did open the door eventually, of course, when representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees managed to convince Mohammed that they were on her side. After determining that she was a bona fide refugee, the UNHCR put out a call for countries to accept Mohammed, and Canada agreed that she could come here.

It was the right move. This was an emergency. The tragic fate of Lasloom is proof enough that women in Saudi Arabia face grave dangers for expressing themselves in even minor ways, such as cutting their hair. The case of murdered and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey shows that the Saudi regime will extend its deadly authority beyond its own borders.

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Despite all this, Mohammed has been subject to hateful online trolls since her arrival in Canada. which are being taken seriously enough that security arrangements have had to be made to keep her safe.

These trolls really need to give their heads a shake, spewing hatred about a young woman —all of 18-years-old, for heaven's sake — who had the courage to stand up for herself and show other women that they can stand up for themselves, as well.

"Today and for years to come, I will work in support of freedom for women around the world – the same freedom I experienced on the first day I arrived in Canada," Mohammed told a press conference after arriving in Canada.

A woman like that will do more to build a strong Canada than the cowards hiding behind Twitter accounts. In fact, she's already done more to make the world a better place, and I'd bet she's only getting started.

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