Qatari woman who fled country still fears for her life

Staff Report
Filed on December 3, 2020 | Last updated on March 19, 2021 at 02.09 pm

Aisha says her homeland significantly supresses women's rights.

Aisha Al Qahtaniis still watching her back after she fled Qatar to London earlier this year. She says the country, which promotes itself as a progressive on the world stage, is unsafe for women. Aisha says her homeland significantly supresses women's rights.

The activist had planned her escape from Qatar for years, but she knew she couldn't fly out of there, because laws stipulate local women under 25 need a male guardian's permission to board a flight.

So, her bid for freedom actually came on a family holiday in Kuwait, where she snuck away to the airport on her own to catch a 3am flight to London.

"It was just like I needed someone to pinch me because I couldn't believe that I actually did this. I could have, if I got caught in Kuwait, I would have been murdered," she told 60 Minutes.

Aisha was gambling with her life, even trying drastic measures of dying her dark hair blonde to disguise herself from her searching family.

"I either ran away to have a new life or I stay and just basically emotionally and mentally die. If this blonde works and I get to live, great. If it doesn't, then it was worth it. At least I tried."

Not surprisingly, when she finally made it to London, Aisha embraced a new western wardrobe that gave her a sense of freedom that she was deprived from.

"I was telling myself if I was a blonde girl with blue eyes my family would just tell me bon voyage and that's it."

After landing in London, the 23-year-old has had to change locations a number of times, after her family managed to allegedly bribe officials to help track her down.

Now, she is always watching her back.

"It's just knowing that they're always gonna carry on looking for me," she said.

Aisha told 60 Minutes she felt like she was in a James Bond movie, having to hide in shadows.

"It's just intense to think about it again. The whole escape plan and the things that women have to go through just to have a normal life," she said.

"I was in Cardiff in the mall and I could see my brother at the end of the path. I thought I was hallucinating. I thought, how could my family find out I'm in Cardiff, there's no way… I've taken all the safety precautions."

For now, Aisha is safe in a secret hideout, but knows that continuing to paint a picture of what life's really like in Qatar makes her a target.

Still, she believes she's lucky to have escaped, and it's her duty to speak out on behalf of the women still there.

"I think it's very important for the world to see the real image of women's situation in Qatar," she said.


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