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International Women’s Day – Safe Exits International for People Like Bethany Vierra Trapped in Saudia Arabia against her will due to archaic male guardianship laws


On International Women’s Day it’s important to pause and consider the plight of women stuck in desperate situations around the world and what can be done to help them. One such woman is Bethany Vierra trapped in Saudi Arabia due to the medieval guardianship laws. Bethany Vierra is a 31 year old American teacher who moved to Saudi Arabia in 2011 to teach at a local university. It was around this time she met a charismatic, charming and successful Saudi business man and they subsequently wed. They welcomed a daughter, Zaina, four years later.

Bethany claims she subject to extreme abuse and she applied for a divorce under Saudi Arabia’s rather rigid divorce laws wherein a woman must establish that the man is not “living up to his male duties.” In countries where “no fault” divorce does not exist, it can create extreme hardship for the woman to prove that she is worthy of a divorce. It can also cause her to incur significant legal costs. She is essentially required to submit herself to the mercy of a judge who holds the discretion as to whether she should be granted a divorce or not.
Despite these challenges, Bethany was successful in attaining a divorce which suggests there was sufficient evidence to meet the aforesaid threshold and that she was able to sustain her claims that he was abusive.

Although she is officially divorced, Bethany’s nightmare is far from over. She is still unable to extricate herself from his clutches due to the brutalist guardianship laws and he still reigns tyrant over her affairs. Under Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws, a woman’s activities whether it be travel, employment, or any other mundane venture must be approved by a male guardian. Furthermore, Saudi officials are failing to recognise that she is a dual citizen of both America and Saudi Arabia.

Bethany’s plight is further exacerbated by the fact that her young daughter Zaina is unable to leave the country because it is understood she is purely a Saudi citizen. This is a story that is shockingly reminiscent of the true story of Betty Mahmoody as portrayed in the horrifying film ‘Not Without My Daughter’ about an American woman who travelled to Iran with her husband and daughter and was subsequently entrapped by him and had to enact a rather bold escape plan.

According to Bethany’s cousin, Nicolle Carroll, Bethany has “no recourse” against her ex-husband and is completely at the mercy of Saudi authorities.

Saudi Arabia has been maligned significantly in the press lately especially if you consider the similarly shocking case of Rahaf who fled an abusive situation with her family in Saudi Arabia and went to Thailand. Lucky for Rahaf she was successful after a flurry of twitter updates raised her profile and the Canadian authorities stepped in and she was granted asylum within Canada.

Rahaf’s case is illustrative of the power of social media in the digital age to compel change. Therefore, BPCA encourages people to use social media to bring Bethany’s situation to light. Surely given the abusive nightmare thrust upon her by a clearly controlling husband who even now continues to dictate so much of her life, Bethany should be entitled to safely exit Saudi Arabia with her young daughter and return to the west.

It is cases like this which in recent months have caused people to significantly question Saudi Arabia’s barbaric and regressive guardianship laws which serve only to subjugate women. The hashtag #Iammyownguardian has gained significant traction as women push for more freedoms in a country noted for its terrible human rights record against women. In February 2018, UN experts admonished the guardianship laws and expressed concerns about Saudi Arabia’s “failure to adopt a specific law prohibiting discrimination against women.” Furthermore, activist Aziza Al-Yousef told The Guardian “Women should be treated as a full citizen.” With such terrible dictatorial laws, it is impossible to see how women could ever be viewed as full citizens unless these outmoded laws are completely abrogated.

BPCA Australia volunteer Lara Hall also endured an horrific nightmare in an Islamic country last year. In 2018, Lara Hall was groomed into going over to Pakistan by a lecherous man and his diabolical family. Although there were attempts to coerce her into marriage, she was successful in pushing back against these endeavours. If Lara had agreed to contract into a marital contract ‘nikkah’ with her abuser, she may have found it more challenging to leave him. To read more about Lara’s story (click here). 

While Pakistan’s system is not the same as the system in Saudi Arabia, she would have also faced a tough time if she had submitted to marrying her abuser. Under Pakistan’s Nikkah or marital laws, a man has a unilateral right to divorce whereas a woman is forced to plead her case judicially. Not only is this entirely unfair but you can imagine the difficulties this creates for women who have no access to the funds to raise a legal case as they fall on the mercy of a judge. Divorce in these countries needs to be normalised and made no fault. Furthermore, women must be raised to be equal citizens rather than second rate citizens.

After Lara left Pakistan, she became determined to ensure that she had not suffered in vain. She is now working alongside BPCA to enact some meaningful changes. Lara and BPCA met with high level officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in February to propose some meaningful reforms. Some of these reforms included, inter alia, amending consular guidelines to ensure that grooming, sexual assault, kidnap, human trafficking victims, etc receive appropriate guidance and support when trapped in international abuse situations. DFAT seemed open to the suggestions that were proffered and invited BPCA for a subsequent meeting and continued dialogue. Read more (here)

Another initiative that BPCA would like to introduce is the creation of an international help centre designed to help women like Bethany Vierra escape international abuse situations. The help centre would be given the unambiguous title of Safe Exits International. Safe Exits would provide free travel advice, in situ support, counselling and monetary assistance and post situ counselling, support as a victim recovers.

BPCA wishes to raise the profile of Bethany Vierra to press for her safe exit and that of her daughter from Saudi Arabia. BPCA stands with Bethany Vierra in her hour of need and we call for you to do the same. We also call for you to donate to our crowd funding effort to get our help centre up and running. Please donate via this link (here).

Lara Hall states:

“On International Women’s Day it is important to illuminate the plight of women in desperate situations. Around the world there are countless voiceless women who are struggling in crisis situations and do not have the resources to extricate themselves from these precarious positions.

On this day it is time to raise awareness of Bethany Vierra’s plight and the plight of all women in similar horrific situations. I want to place pressure on the relevant authorities to give Bethany and her daughter their safe exit from Saudi Arabia, a country noted for its abhorrent human rights record.

Safe Exits International is a ground breaking initiative that we hope will herald in a meaningful change and be a beacon of hope for many women. It was what I needed when I was trapped in Pakistan. It is what Bethany needs right now as she faces an uphill battle for her freedom and that of her young daughter.

It is often easy to turn a blind eye to the atrocities going on in the world but I do hope that people can empathise with her horrendous plight and help raise her profile and give generously to establish this help centre.”

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

"Women across the globe suffer brutality in regimes where there worth is defined by ancient texts that undermine their value to society and reciprocally their rights.

"We hope that Bethany gets some justice and is able to free herself and her daughter from the bondage of the patriarchal laws in Saudia Arabia by escaping to the freedoms of the west.

"There is a dire need for a group that stands in the gap for women who find themselves in the predicament of gender persecution, we hope Safe Exits can provide protection and impetus for change."

BPCA will be establishing a Facebook group called Safe Exits International - Free Bethany Vierra to advocate for both Bethany and her daughter, Zaina's freedom. People should email the American embassy in Saudi Arabia to place pressure on them to intervene. They can be contacted at riyadhacs@state.gov. People should also be encouraged to write to their local elected representatives, local Saudi embassies and consulates as well as local American embassies and consulates to place pressure on them to work together for the young family's freedom.

BPCA having seen the power of social media in the case of Rahaf would encourage people to hashtag #IamBethanyVierra and #Iammyownguardian as doing so will elevate the profile of this case in the media and hopefully be the catalyst for compelling the American and Saudi authorities to free this woman and her daughter. These very pragmatic suggestions will serve to help an incredibly vulnerable woman in her hour of need.

Video of Lara Hall calling for safe exit for Bethany Vierra

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