Women’s activist Aisha al-Qahtani recalls escape from Qatar, vows to fight for rights

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Aisha al-Qahtani has recounted her escape from Doha after years of what she described as oppressive and abusive life in Qatar, the only GCC country that continues to implement male guardianship laws for female travel, the Qatari women's rights activist told 60 Minutes Australia in an interview.

Al-Qahtani, currently in London, escaped by catching a 3 a.m. flight last December during a family trip to Kuwait. The reason she chose to do so from another Gulf country as Qatar remains the only state within the Gulf Cooperation Council to require females under the age of 25 to obtain a male guardian’s permission to travel.

“It was just like I needed someone to pinch me because I couldn't believe that I actually did this and I was telling myself that if I was a blonde girl with blue eyes, my family would just tell me bon voyage,” al-Qahtani, the daughter of an influential high-ranking military officer and niece of an ambassador, told 60 Minutes Australia in a recent interview.

“But why do I have to go through this escape plan and Prison Break-like story just to leave? Just to, you know, travel? Just, my freedom of movement?” she added.

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Qatar remains the only GCC country with male guardianship laws for female travel after Saudi Arabia lifted restrictions in 2019. According to the Qatari Ministry of Interior’s website, single women under 25 years of age require a male guardian’s consent to travel outside the country.

Qatari men can also apply to the courts to prohibit their wives from traveling.

Al-Qahtani vowed that she plans on “starting a revolution” in Qatar to get more women to speak out for their rights, adding that she had both the time and energy to do so.

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Qatari activist says Doha’s guardianship rules curtail women’s freedom to travel

Qatar only remaining GCC country restricting travel for women

Revamped guardianship laws usher in a new era for Saudi women

“I'm trying to lead a revolution. I'm trying to make girls there speak up even more and if they're scared to talk, I will say what they want to say. I think I can, I mean I've got the energy, I've got the time, I've only turned 23 a couple of weeks ago and I have all the doors opened for me,” she told 60 Minutes Australia.

In Saudi Arabia, a decree last August gave women the right to apply for and obtain a passport independently. Other changes to the law now allow women to register a marriage, divorce, or child’s birth and to be issued official family documents. The decree also stipulates that either a father or a mother can be named the legal guardians of their children.

Neither Bahrain nor the UAE operates guardian systems for adult female travelers. Kuwaiti women gained the right to travel without a guardian’s permission in 2009. Omani women are free to travel, but married Omani women need approval from their husband to receive a passport.

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