In the past few weeks, reports of teenage girls fleeing from Gulf countries and demanding political asylum abroad attracted the world’s attention. It has become a matter of discussion, criticism and a little sympathy. I think this issue must be studied seriously, as it has very negative social and media consequences. Revealing the reason behind their flight explicitly and clearly is necessary, even if their number is small and does not constitute a phenomenon yet.
I believe that before criticizing foreign countries that accepted the young girls as part of their international human rights standards and respecting human choices for leading their lives, the most important question is why did these young women choose to run away, and what was the pressure they faced that led them to flee?
I am a mother and a citizen of this region. I believe there is an important issue that Gulf families nowadays must recognize and comply with. We are living in a new and different era. We are no longer in the Fifties or the Eighties. Parents must stop thinking, planning and sometimes executing plans for their children’s lives, especially when it comes to study or marriage, as well as other matters that may seem insignificant and not debatable for the families, but are certainly important to children today.
One of these, for example, is forcing girls to wear headscarves (hijab) or forcing them to marry relatives or where to work and what to study. The problem here is that children and young adults have their own ideas and access to social media and the full range of possibilities of what life can be. They may show obedience to the family, but it may be out of fear or respect and not consent or conviction. Families may think that by doing so, they are protecting their children and securing their future, but this has nothing to do with protection.
The ties between children and social media today is strong. We were once closed communities but the digital era and social media have opened a large space, including young people who carry smart devices in their pockets from a young age with access to different topics every day on social media and from so-called celebrities. They read international news about art, crimes, killings and wars. I think that all these factors affect their ideas and create questions and comparison between their lives and what they see online.
We as adult members of society are grumbling about our lives and impose this on the lives of our young people until they are afraid of the future and hate the present. Thus, we transfer these feelings unconsciously to our children, leading them to look for a better place in the world for what they think is better for their future.
I believe that the family plays a role and is the main reason for the decisions of children, whether negative or positive.
Any family that considers itself a guardian of its children, even if they are married and have kids, is making a mistake. No one can protect anyone from the future or the problems of life because overprotection of an individual is harmful. Love and understanding is the basis of any social relationship and accepting differences in desires and choices is the only way to resolve any family dispute.
I have noticed that most runaways are girls and not boys. This means that there is pressure on girls. In Arab societies, the preference for males is still evident. Also, verbal abuse and violence towards girls has very negative consequences and is way too common. There are other key elements that must be considered, related to the educational and moral discourse that needs radical development and more attention to little kids. My personal opinion is that it is possible to resolve simple problems with a lot of understanding, love and acceptance of differences.
By Muna Al-Fuzai