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'I Was Like A Slave': Saudi Woman Explains Why She Fled To Australia

Regina* remembers being a teenager and walking down the street next to her male guardian, feeling overwhelmed with shame.

Even in summer when temperatures reached a sweltering 45 degrees, Regina was covered head-to-toe in a black abaya -- Saudi Arabia's traditional dress.

"I was scared of my body. When I walked in the street, I always covered everything. I felt like I brought shame and I must cover myself," Regina told 10 daily.

"I felt like if any man looked at my body, it would be my mistake, not his mistake."

While her brothers were out playing soccer and riding bikes, Regina was housebound, helping her mother clean.

A Saudi woman wearing an abaya answers her door to visitors in Jeddah. Image: Getty

Her mother, a devout Muslim, believed God created men and women differently and if Regina played outside she'd lose her "virtue".

"In Saudi Arabia, they believe virginity is very important," Regina said.

"Boys can do what they want, they will never get pregnant and nobody will know. So they control the girl and leave the boy to do whatever he wants."

A female airport worker in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia. Image: Getty

Regina met her husband online, before he asked her family's permission to marry her.

Not long after she got married, her husband became physically abusive, controlling what she wore and beating her if she refused to have sex.

"Boys in my country use the internet, they have nice cars and iPhones but their minds are still very old-fashioned," Regina said.

The sex was not sex, it wasn't something that I could choose. I had to say yes and if I said no, he'd kick me."

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After her father died and Regina got divorced, a judge assigned Regina's younger brother to be the male guardian of her and her mother.

Regina's younger brother ruled over her life, taking her passport and refusing permission for her to travel for medical treatment.

Saudi couple at a seaside resort in Durrat Al-Arus, Saudi Arabia. Image: Getty

"I said 'This boy? I changed his diapers. I was a teenager when he was born and now you want him to be my guardian and control my life?'," Regina said.

"My mother now had to ask permission to do anything from her own son."

In 2017, Regina hatched a plan to flee, after her brother finally granted her permission to travel to a Middle-Eastern country.

After arriving to the country, which we have chosen to keep private for safety reasons, Regina boarded a flight to Australia, where she now lives.

Female students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Image: Getty

Since unveiling its first-ever tourist visa, Saudi Arabia has poured billions of dollars into rehabilitating its image.

To counter its tarnished human rights reputation and detract from its bombing campaign in Yemen,  the country has hired PR firms and influencers to promote a positive view of the Kingdom.

This year Saudi Arabia announced its first ever tourist e-visa. Image: Getty

Dr Raihan Ismail, associate lecturer at the centre for Arab and Islamic studies at the Australian Nationality University, told 10 daily that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MbS) is presenting himself as a 'reformer'.

Dr Ismail said MbS is modernising the country to attract foreign investors by granting women the right to drive and travel without male permission.

But many Saudi feminists have questioned whether the progression of women's rights is genuine.

Several women remain in prison for campaigning to drive. Image: Getty

Currently, nine women who campaigned for women's right to drive remain in prison without charge.

The brother of one of these women, Loujain al-Hathloul has alleged she was tortured in custody.

"The Saudi state is becoming a little more repressive, particularly towards those who are critical of Saudi," said Dr Ismail.

"It's very difficult for activists to promote reform. It's very difficult for journalists to actually report on stories."

A woman wearing a niqab walks on the beach. Image: Getty

Since leaving Saudi Arabia, Regina has been extremely careful not to reveal information which could lead the government to her exact whereabouts.

Undeterred by her dozens of Saudi trolls, Regina continues to champion women's rights online under a pseudonym.

"If women like me had not fled outside Saudi Arabia, the law would have never changed," Regina said.

"I've fled, I'm safe now but I will never leave women in my country. I will keep speaking until men and women are equal under the law."

*Name has been changed to protect woman's identity*

Contact Eden on Twitter @edengillespie