Two Saudi Arabian sisters may be forced to return to the country they escaped due to abuse from their male family members, a punishment that puts them at risk of death or severe mutilation via so-called “honor” violence.
30-year-old Ashwaq Hamoud and her 28-year-old sister Areej Hamoud fled from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, telling authorities they would face grave harm if they were forced to return. One of the sisters lost her challenge to her deportation in a Turkish court this month, while the other’s case is still pending, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Saudi women fleeing their family or the country can face so-called ‘honor’ violence or other serious harm if returned against their will,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Turkey returns these women, the consequences could be dire.”
The sisters are at risk of serious harm if returned to their family. They also face possible criminal charges, in violation of their basic rights, including for “parental disobedience,” which can result in punishments ranging from being returned to their guardian’s home to imprisonment, as well as charges of “harming the reputation of the kingdom” due to their public requests for assistance.
The Saudi Arabian government has made some strides toward gender equality in recent months, including its decision to allow women to drive and attend sports events in stadiums, but it seems like the culture itself still has a long way to go, due to adherence to a fundamentalist strain of Islam that treats women as property and causes some of the most horrific examples of abuse and violence we see in modern times.
Maybe you’re wondering why the women would be sent back at all, given the situation. The girls’ father has told the Turkish authorities that the girls were planning to join a militant group in Syria… even though there’s no evidence whatsoever to support that. Yet it may be reason enough for Turkish police to send the women back to Saudi Arabia,
The sisters have denied the allegation. There is no known criminal investigation into the women by the Turkish authorities in connection with their father’s allegation.
Human Rights Watch blames Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, which is based on religious ideals. Under the system, adult women must get permission from a male guardian to travel abroad, marry, or be released from prison.
These restrictions last from birth until death, as women are, in the view of the Saudi state, permanent legal minors.
While Saudi Arabia has some regulations on domestic violence, guardianship makes it incredibly difficult for victims of violence to seek protection or obtain legal redress for abuse. The near impossibility of transferring guardianship away from abusive relatives can condemn women to a life of violence. Shelters for survivors of domestic violence often send women back to their abusers if they sign a pledge not to harm them, and women cannot leave such shelters without a male relative to receive them.
Not that you needed another reminder, but there’s nothing honorable about “honor” killings and violence in the name of saving face. If these women are taken back to Saudi Arabia, there’s legitimate reason to fear it’s the last time we’ll see them.