Sisters Dua (22) and Dalal (20) are the most recent in a saga of women to have fled Saudi Arabia as a result of forced marriage, sexual abuse and strict guardianship laws. Whilst living in Saudi Arabia, Dua and Dalal claim that they were beaten “frequently,” sexually abused by male relatives, and, should they have remained in the country, forced to marry older, religious men – especially troubling for Dua who identifies as gay. Their story is, however, not necessarily unique. In January, Rahaf al Qunun successfully escaped Saudi Arabia to gain asylum in Canada, and her fear of return bears striking resemblance to that of Dua and Dalal today.
Part of the ‘social media generation’, Dua and Dalal gained an insight into life outside Saudi Arabia through their interest in films and youtube videos. They saw another way of life – one in which women do not require permission from a male relative to make basic choices, such as boarding a plane or leaving abuse shelters, leading them to wonder; “Why am I living here?” Taking the decision to run from their family, the sisters were forced to make their escape whilst on holiday in Turkey in order to avoid ‘tracking’ by a Saudi government app, ‘Abshir’.
Toby Cadman from London-based barristers’ chambers, Guernica 37, is acting as the sisters’ legal counsel. In a Channel 4 News interview (July 8th) with Dua and Dalal, he expressed the view that the women’s “lives are at risk,” noting “The more we see young Saudi women wanting to have a free life, the bigger the problem it is for the Saudi authorities. So they want to quash this now”.
The sisters’ concern lies in being found by their father and “dragged back” to Saudi Arabia against their will, and this is a very real possibility. In 2017, Dina Al Lasloom was forcibly returned from the Philippines to her family in Saudi Arabia after trying to escape her forced marriage.
In an attempt to remain undetected by both their father and the Saudi embassy, Dua and Dalal are constantly moving between residences in hotels, and by the time that this article is uploaded, they will find themselves in yet another city. They spend every moment in fear of being caught by their father. When asked in an interview what would happen if they were found, Dalal seemed certain in claiming that “we will disappear forever”, whilst Dua goes further to say that “my father will kill me before I get there”.
Although there appears to be no easy solution to the sisters’ situation, they hold hope in the chance of being granted asylum in a third country, free from the threat of imprisonment or persecution for their choices.