Women Tell CNN Why They ‘Choose To Stay’ In Saudi Arabia

The CNN report on Saudi women asylum seekers sparked intense debate among women who are currently living in the Gulf kingdom.

Last week, CNN published a story titled "The Saudi women afraid to go home" based on women who escaped oppression in Saudi Arabia to seek asylum in the United States.

"Saudi Arabia has and continues to arrest, prosecute and imprison dissidents, including women's rights activists, who then, if they are imprisoned, need a male guardian to agree to their release,” said Arwa, one of the women featured in the article, who claimed she had to flee the Gulf kingdom after publicly renouncing Islam.

Being an atheist is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

While the story struck a nerve with many Saudi women who indeed have to endure various restrictions, such as the well-documented driving ban or the mandatory dress (modesty) code, it failed to resonate with a lot of other women living in the ultraconservative country.

Those women reacted to CNN’s article by using the hashtag “#I_Choose_To_Stay,” a thread in which they stated all the reasons for staying behind in Saudi Arabia, despite all the struggles, to fight for change.

The discussion was led by Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, a Saudi princess who is also the vice president for women’s affairs of the General Sports Authority in Saudi Arabia, who first tweeted the hashtag to CNN’s Twitter account:


Others joined in:






However, the hashtag attracted a lot of criticism from people who pointed out that #I_Choose_To_Stay undermined and excluded those Saudi women who were neither born with privilege (like Princess Reema) nor were fortunate enough to have considerate male guardians.






While it’s true Saudi Arabia has recently, no doubt, introduced significant reforms to improve the lives of women, such as allowing them to participate and run in municipal elections or make verbal consent of women a must for marriage, the country still has a long a way to go as far as women’s rights are concerned.

The women featured in CNN’s article cited legitimate fears. A woman should be allowed to choose what she wears, where and how she wants to travel. Following or leaving religion is a personal choice. Punishing or, worse, executing someone for practicing freedom of thought is not going to help empower anyone.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Suzanne Plunkett

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