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:
Being born and raised a Saudi female is something I will forever be proud of, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. #i_choose_to_stay— ???? ???????? (@DanaAlJawini) January 20, 2017
#i_choose_to_stay— Rema Elharbi ? (@rema_dream) January 19, 2017
I choose to fight until I earn my own rights as a human being
No one can stop the voice of freedom and equality
Any changes will take time in any part of the world #i_choose_to_stay to be part of that change and contribute in building my own country????— Nora Al-Okail (@n_okail) January 20, 2017
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.
Isn't funny that the hashtag #i_choose_to_stay started by a princess who accustomed to doing whatever she wants with total immunity?— Jawhrah (@Aljawhrahm) January 19, 2017
#i_choose_to_stay— ???? ?????? (@hajer____93) January 19, 2017
"Choose" is not even a word you can use as a Saudi Woman. You never choose you only believe that you're choosing.
#I_choose_to_stay Just because you were born with an indulgent guardian doesn't mean all Saudi females have that privilege. Stand up for all— Fatimah Alshaikh (@FatmaAHS) January 20, 2017
Saudi elite women who have liberal parents and a huge influx of daddy's money do not represent working class Saudi women.#I_Choose_To_Stay— The Anti-Aziz (@SilentRuins) January 20, 2017
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