Though Saudi women have been gaining more rights in recent months, they are still deprived of many ... mainly due to the male guardianship system in place.
Because the legal setup puts a male guardian - usually a father, brother, or husband - in charge of a woman's life, females who face abuse under it are rendered helpless and are often unable to report the violence they're subjected to.
Though many of their attempts at fleeing the country ended with them being sent back to their families, their courageous stories still instigated some change.
1. The escape of Dina Ali Lasloom
In April 2017, a Saudi woman named Dina Ali Lasloom tried to seek asylum in Australia but was arrested by airport officials during a transit stop in the Philippines.
Though the 24-year-old claimed her family was abusive and would kill her if they had the chance, she was still held in the airport until they could come for her. She was eventually forcibly returned to the kingdom by her uncles.
In a video posted on Twitter, lawyer and activist Moudhi Al Jahani, who said she was in touch with Lasloom throughout the ordeal, confirmed that the woman was taken back to Saudi Arabia by her relatives.
Al Jahani also added that the woman's uncles hit her and told her they would kill her when they landed in Saudi Arabia, and criticized rights organizations for doing little to aid in the situation.
2. The escape of Ashwaq and Areej Hamoud
In Feb. 2017, Saudi sisters Ashwaq (30) and Areej Hamoud (28) fled the kingdom to Turkey in a bid to escape abuse they were facing while living with their families.
Both sisters claimed that male members of their family had been violent towards them, subjecting them to beatings, locking them up in their room, and depriving them of food.
In May 2017, both women were detained by Turkish authorities after their father told the latter they were planning to join terrorist groups in Syria. They were also threatened with deportation.
Both sisters immediately denied his claims and posted a series of videos on social media "in which they claimed they fled family abuse and feared they would be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia."
The last update on their case was sent out by their lawyer Serdarhan Topo who said he will fight against their extradition.
3. The escape of Arwa
In 2017, a young Saudi woman who was referred to as Arwa spoke to CNN, explaining how she fled the kingdom.
After studying in the U.S., Arwa returned to Saudi Arabia and worked there for a couple of years. After she arrived back to the kingdom, she claimed "her parents began to turn on her as she began questioning the restrictions placed on women in Saudi society".
Fed up with the restrictions she faced, the young woman eventually sneaked out of her family home, traveled to Bahrain, and boarded a flight to the U.S.
She applied for asylum in the country and told CNN if she is denied that, she could be sent back to a place where she fears she might be killed.
"What really scares me is that I wouldn't get this asylum, and I would be returned and I would die young, and that I would lose everything that I tried to build, that I would just fail," she told CNN at the time.
4. The escape of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun
In January 2019, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun attempted to escape the kingdom via Kuwait Airport and took to Twitter in a bid to save her life.
Speaking to BBC, the teen said "she was on a trip to Kuwait with her family when she fled on a flight," adding that "she was trying to head to Australia via a connecting flight in Bangkok."
Upon landing in Thailand, she realized her family had notified the kingdom's embassies in both Kuwait and Thailand of her escape attempt. Her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat who was waiting for her when she arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Thai immigration officials tried sending the teen back to Kuwait after escaping while on a trip. However, she barricaded herself in a hotel room she was placed in and sent out social media posts asking the UN to save her.
After her posts went viral, a massive online campaign was launched in a bid to save her. As activists pressured authorities to take action in the case, UN officials were granted access to the teen and placed her under their protection.
According to the latest news reports, she was given "refugee" status by the UN and now awaits for a country to grant her asylum.
The number of similar cases that often go unreported is staggering
For every reported case of attempted escape, there are many others that go unreported.
Activists in the kingdom say a high number of women try to escape Saudi Arabia but are caught before their cases go viral online.
While there are no exact numbers when it comes to the issue, Mansour al-Askar, a sociologist who works at the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University, says "at least 1,000 Saudi Arabian women flee the country each year because of the country's ingrained misogyny".
Even more women want to escape the kingdom but can't. Speaking to CNN, a campaigner for Saudi women's rights explained one of the reasons behind that, saying:
"Many women simply can't get out. They do not have the means and they need the permission of their guardian to leave their house or to leave the country."
The abuse women endure under Saudi's male guardianship system is a main trigger for escapes
Being under the system, which has long been condemned by human rights organizations, means women are discriminated against in nearly all aspects of public and private life. This is mainly due to a legal code influenced by a fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law.
But in recent years, Saudi Arabia has amended a number of laws in an effort to empower women, including opening municipal elections for female candidates and making women's verbal consent to marriage mandatory.
The Saudi Council also announced an amendment to laws governing travel documents, giving women a right to obtain a passport without male permission.
In Sep. 2017, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving, ending the long-standing policy that's been heavily criticized since 1990.
A month later, the kingdom announced women will be able to attend sporting events in stadiums starting 2018. This all puts a dent in the kingdom's guardianship system and gives activists hope that women will be free of it soon.