An American woman who moved to Saudi Arabia to conduct research for her graduate degree is now trapped there by the country’s draconian “guardianship laws.”
In 2011, Bethany Vierra got a job at a women’s university in Saudi Arabia, where the legal system, based on Islamic Shariah law, severely restricts women’s rights. In 2013, she married a Saudi businessman and they had a daughter, named Zaina, but Vierra’s husband became verbally abusive, and eventually she sought a divorce. He refused to grant the divorce, and ever since, according to Vierra’s cousin — who told the whole story to the New York Times — Vierra has been trapped, unable to leave the country, access her bank account, or seek legal assistance.
“She is completely stuck,” said her cousin, Nicole Carroll, from Dublin, California.
Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws give women a legal status roughly equivalent to children. Every woman, including foreign women who marry Saudi men, must have a male “guardian” to give them permission to do certain things, like travel or pursue some medical procedures.
Ultimately, Vierra’s husband granted the divorce, but refused to let her or their daughter travel. Then, last month, he allowed her residency to lapse, putting her in the appalling position of being in the country illegally and also not being allowed to leave.
The U.S. State Department has declined to comment on the case, but its website states that when foreigners divorce Saudis, “Saudi courts rarely grant permission for the foreign parent to leave the country with the children born during the marriage.”
Contacted by the Times, Vierra confirmed that the story her cousin had related was true, but refused to name her ex-husband for fear that he would only make her situation worse.
Read the full story at the New York Times.