SOME good news to start 2019 on the right note: a teenager detained at Bangkok Airport while fleeing Saudi Arabia has been granted asylum.

Eighteen-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, pictured below, was holidaying with her family in Kuwait when she escaped, hoping to reach safety in Australia.

En route, she was detained by Thai authorities seeking to repatriate her before she barricaded herself in a hotel room. After a series of tweets and videos renouncing her faith and claiming fears for her safety, there was an international outpouring of support on social media.

The National:

Having caught the attention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she was granted refugee status. Canada came to her assistance, and she is now safe in Toronto.

Rahaf has been in the firing line for not living up to the image of the stereotypical refugee. She is from a wealthy family, was holidaying with them and had the means to save for a plane ticket over several months.

READ MORE: Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrives in Canada after asylum is granted

Like most teenage girls, she uses Snapchat and has been seen having fun with a cute bunny filter on her face. Evidence of her being a typical teenager and not being dirt poor has led to accusations about the extent of her maltreatment, and her suitability to be considered a refugee.

This is despite her living in a regime that treats her as a second-class citizen, where peaceful women’s rights protesters are jailed, dissidents are murdered out-of-state, and apostates are lashed and beheaded. As it stands, Rahaf has deleted her Twitter account following death threats.

The National:

Rahaf in her barricaded hotel room in Bangkok

The backlash paints an ugly truth about the prejudices some still hold concerning refugees: we don’t want them to look like us. They need to look like they are suffering – otherwise, they don’t deserve help.

Given the recent horror inflicted upon Jamal Khashoggi for his dissenting views, it seems unconscionable to question the veracity of anyone seeking sanctuary abroad. But still, many do. If you find yourself asking why Rahaf wanted out, consider the context.

READ MORE: US urges Saudi Arabia to hold Khashoggi killers accountable

Consider what it means to be a young woman who has rejected Islam and who wants the rights and the freedom to be the fullest version of herself. To basic dignity and freedom from the state-imposed cage shouldn’t be hard to grasp for those of us who take our agency for granted. To be a woman in Saudi Arabia is to live in captivity to social and religious conservatism. To be a woman who hungers to use her mind, to speak, and to participate in society is to bait Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, pictured below, the crown prince who tolerates no criticism.

The National:

In recent years many women have attempted to flee Saudi Arabia, a theocratic absolute monarchy with a strict interpretation of Sharia Law, where their rights are almost non-existent.

Women have been detained for blogging, for driving, and for holding up signs. According to Mansour al-Askar, a sociologist from the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University, up to 1000 women escape the country each year.

Compared to many neighbouring Islamic countries, the standard of modest dress is far stricter. Women must be completely covered except for the hands and eyes, a diktat enforced by the religious police.

READ MORE: David Pratt: The story of the world in 2018

Sex segregation at home and in public is severe and, regardless of social or economic circumstances, all women have every aspect of their lives, from birth until death, controlled by a male guardian.

Under the guardianship system, they are treated as perpetual minors, incapable of making basic decisions about their lives without the permission of their father, husband or brother and even in some cases, their sons. Any freedom a woman has depends entirely on the whims of her guardian.

The National:

A Saudi woman in her car following the lifting of a ban on women driving

Despite the PR campaign touting Mohammad Bin Salman as a reformer, his actions have stopped short of meaningful change. The easing of restrictions on women, such as allowing them to drive or ride bicycles, has been mostly symbolic.

The reality is that advocating for women’s full participation in society is dangerous. In 2017, Maryam al-Otaibi spent 104 days in prison for leaving her father’s house. In the same year, Dina Ali Lasloom attempted to flee and was caught in the Philippines by her uncles and forced on to a plane, bound and gagged. She has not been seen since.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia's latest behaviour shouldn't be a surprise

In May 2018, activist Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested in the United Arab Emirates, where she was studying for a masters degree, for defying the female driving ban – despite having the UAE licence.

She has been a political prisoner ever since and is widely reported to have been sexually harassed and tortured.

Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Israa al-Ghomgham, who could become the first female political activist to be executed in the kingdom for what Human Rights Watch have described as “hardly resembling crimes” at all.

To be a woman in Saudi Arabia is to be owned by your husband and the state. That may as well be a death sentence. If this was your reality, wouldn’t you want to escape too?

READ MORE: Inequality is still rife in our society – just look at the plight of women

Rahaf’s story gives us hope.

She was able to use a network of other women who had made it out, and the power of social media to be heard. But for all those who have made it out, there are far more who have not succeeded.

For women like those above, to seek out a life of one’s own shows incredible courage given the price of failure. Surely our job is not to criticise the individual but to show solidarity with those who fear for their lives?

This happy ending – or rather, fresh start – is but a drop in the ocean considering the enormous number of displaced peoples around the world. This is one story we’ve had the fortune of hearing.

Let’s not forget there is far more work to be done to make sure the justice Rahaf has received scales up and out to everyone fleeing persecution.