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Saudi Arabia’s Guardianship Laws Trap American-Born Woman

An American-born woman and her Saudi-born daughter are currently stuck in a dangerous situation due to Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws.

Bethany Vierra met her husband while teaching at a women’s university in Washington State. They soon moved to Saudi Arabia, her husband’s birthplace, for his job, where things quickly went sour.

Vierra faced verbal and emotional abuse from her husband throughout their marriage, leading her to file for a divorce. However, because of guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia (based off of Islamic Sharia law) every woman requires a male guardian to obtain a passport, be able to travel, in order to have certain medical procedures, and even to divorce their own husband.

Male guardians’ ability to force control over their wives is remarkably easy with the help of these laws. Men can control where and when women travel through a government app. They can even receive text messages alerting them when their wife passes through the airport.

In Vierra’s case, her ex-husband refused to agree to a divorce when she first asked, leading to Vierra pursuing legal action, citing her husband’s abuse as cause for separation. But  he swore she was lying and suggested that he had already divorced her. The judge sided with him.

However, because the judge sided with Vierra’s husband, who claimed they had been divorced for six months, the separation was legally recognized by the State.

Even though the couple is now divorced, Vierra is still under her ex-husband’s guardianship, according to Saudi Arabian laws. He refuses to allow her travel and has let her residency expire. Without residency, she can’t travel, go to the police, or access her bank account.

A new law does allow women in Vierra’s position to gain guardianship of a Saudi born child, but Vierra’s ex-husband is the only one who can receive thosedocuments and refuses. This means Vierra might have to leave her daughter behind if she is ever able to find a way to leave the country.

In a country that swears it’s trying to make men and women equal, it’s obvious there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. Saudi Arabia allows women to drive, lets them into stadiums (which was previously not the case), and now has a female ambassador, but they have not yet proven that they consider women as equals, especially with guardianship laws such as these in place.

When asked about changing these guardianship laws, Prince Mohammed said he wanted to “figure out a way to treat this that doesn’t harm families and doesn’t harm the culture.”

Women will never truly be equal in a country where they are treated as minors and watched constantly. To be treated as equals means to be treated as full citizens, which is far from today’s reality  

Vierra’s story is a nightmare situation but not entirely uncommon for Saudi and foreign women in the country. There have been several news stories regarding women who ran away from their families to seek asylum. But surrounding countries aren’t much better. For example, in Dubai, where one of their princesses tried to escape and was forcibly brought back to the country where some say she has since been killed.

Nicole Carroll, Vierra’s cousin, knows the outcome doesn’t look good. She says, “She has no recourse. Everyone keeps asking: ‘What next? What next?’ But there is no what next.”


Editor’s Note: As of Sunday, Bethany Vierra officially received legal Saudi residency after extensive Western media coverage.

Featured Image by Mohammed Hassan on Unsplash



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