In 2017, Saudi Arabia made headlines when its government decided to finally allow female citizens to legally drive. While many local conservative groups resisted the ruling, the move was a part of a new era of liberation Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has promised to usher in as he modernizes the locale.
Despite this symbol of progress, women in Saudi Arabia are still forced to navigate a life burdened by a number of oppressive restrictions. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia operates under a strict designation of Islamic law called "Wahhabism" that forces its female citizens to live a life of subservience to their male "guardians." Women must obtain guardian permission to work, travel, get married, get divorced, sign contracts, or perform any major activity. Well into adulthood, Saudi Arabian women are essentially considered minors.
The strict laws also make it virtually impossible to escape circumstances of domestic or sexual abuse, and even non-native women living in Saudi Arabia are subject to these restrictions. After marrying a Saudi Arabian man, one American woman became trapped within the oppressive system.
Women’s rights are extremely limited in Saudi Arabia.
via: ShutterstockAll female citizens have an official male guardian, or “wali." This can be a father, husband, brother, uncle, or even their own son.
Stories of local women fleeing their families have become more frequent.
via: Getty ImagesIn January, Rahaf al-Qunun, a Saudi teen, went viral when she attempted to leave her oppressive home.
She made her escape to Thailand while her family was on vacation.
via: Getty ImagesRahaf al-Qunun has since been granted refugee status by the United Nations and given asylum in Canada
Few are able to successfully leave the confines of Saudi rule.
via: Getty ImagesWomen attempting to escape face great legal danger, and the potential of violence from their families should they be forced to return.
Many remain trapped in the system.
Opinion: Saudi Arabia is torturing a U.S. citizen. When will Trump act? https://t.co/T7PGz6KqiF— The Washington Post (@The Washington Post)1551785884.0
Bethany Vierra, an American woman from Washington state, is currently stuck fighting for her freedom in Saudi Arabia.
An American has been trapped in Saudi Arabia since she divorced her husband because of a combination of residency a… https://t.co/SKaOlDHrK8— The New York Times (@The New York Times)1551786306.0
The move became more permanent when Vierra met and fell for a local Saudi businessman.
FREE Bethany Vierra American woman who divorced her Saudi husband is now trapped there https://t.co/RcCfFILiDH via @MailOnline— Jimmy jimmy (@Jimmy jimmy)1551871499.0
The couple soon had a daughter, Zaina.
Eventually, Vierra asked for a divorce.
via: Getty ImagesMen in Saudi Arabia can easily divorce their wives with just a few words, but he would not grant her the separation for over a year.
According to the Islamic Shariah-based Saudi law, a woman can only request a legal divorce if her husband is not fulfilling his required duties.
via: ShutterstockVierra was ultimately granted a legal separation by a judge on the grounds of her husband’s abusive nature.
But the country’s guardianship laws meant that Vierra’s husband still maintains control over her and Zaina.
Bethany Vierra and her daughter, Zaina, in a picture provided by Ms. Vierra’s cousin. The two are stuck in Saudi Ar… https://t.co/1DeknJibiJ— MelødyJ@cobs 🇸🇦🇸🇪 (@MelødyJ@cobs 🇸🇦🇸🇪)1551847993.0
The laws practically make Vierra’s abusive ex-husband her warden.
American Teacher Bethany Vierra Remains Stuck in Saudi Arabia Because of the Male Guardianship System https://t.co/KMHhVyRB67— ELLE Magazine (US) (@ELLE Magazine (US))1551907488.0
He recently allowed Vierra’s residency to expire.
Due to the guardianship laws, Bethany Vierra is unable to leave the country, use her bank account, or seek legal he… https://t.co/ifhbMCoXry— Morgan Hill, P.C. (@Morgan Hill, P.C.)1551909368.0
A new Saudi enables women in Vierra’s position to obtain residency through parenthood of a Saudi citizen, which Vierra has through Zaina.
American woman trapped in Saudi Arabia after divorcing husband || Via TheNewArab https://t.co/IhUoqjp1d1— SafetyPin-Daily (@SafetyPin-Daily)1551912603.0
Even if Vierra could escape, she would likely be leaving her daughter behind.
An American woman has been trapped in Saudi Arabia with her 4-year-old daughter because her ex-husband still has 'g… https://t.co/Cge2KcNB4O— EdwardLopez (@EdwardLopez)1551912011.0
Carroll said that the family was speaking out publicly on Vierra’s situation to try and find a solution.
via: Getty ImagesVierra is out of options and facing a dangerous outcome without support in the oppressive system.
Vierra is just one of many women in Saudi Arabia living under restrictive laws.
Absher: The Google-approved Saudi government app that tracks women https://t.co/mbSuHU5geT— Lolnonymous Sources Alroy (@Lolnonymous Sources Alroy)1551905689.0
Absher can be loosely translated as "at your service" or "your request is granted."
Absher, la app del gobierno saudí que permite controlar a las mujeres https://t.co/fz8XEa2Slq https://t.co/uwgC6uevzT— Miguel Malpica (@Miguel Malpica)1551897483.0
It also enables easy management of female “dependents."
via: Getty ImagesThe Absher platform includes a list of all Saudi Arabian citizens and allows men to control the women as their designated guardians.
Absher oppresses women at the push of a button.
Google is under criticism for human rights violations by refusing to remove a Saudi government app that allows men… https://t.co/tHdufXpI22— Lauren (@Lauren)1551891127.0
If a woman attempts to act against her designated permissions, her male guardian is notified.
via: Getty ImagesMen receive automatic SMS messages whenever the women they control use their passports or cross a border.
Even if a woman were able to escape, Absher makes her easy to trace.
via: ShutterstockThe alert system catches many women attempting to flee the country, as it tips of guardians and local authorities.
Women also have access to Absher.
via: ShutterstockBut not with the same permissions as male guardians. Female use of the app is limited to simple bureaucratic tasks
Absher became compulsory in 2012.
via: Getty ImagesSome Saudis have spoken out against the app as an invasion of human rights, and a huge step back for gender equality. But the app remains commonplace in the country.
Some women have made attempts to work within the app to escape.
Google insists it will continue to make the Saudi government's Absher app available in its app store even though it… https://t.co/c5zYJmHfeO— Kenneth Roth (@Kenneth Roth)1551628241.0
An estimated 1,000 women attempt to leave Saudi Arabia every year.
#Google won't remove a #Saudi app that lets men track women, & furthermore says to Congresswoman that #Absher does… https://t.co/Eg7QPfYxIm— John J. Gaynard (@John J. Gaynard)1551892507.0
Even with such a glaring systematized abuse of women, Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman claims he is making the country more progressive.
2/ Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving, a hard-fought moment for women’s rights in the kingdom. But can it… https://t.co/c0DeWoTxbI— The World (@The World)1551546116.0
Prince Mohammed says he believes men and women are equal.
via: Getty ImagesHowever, he does not want to disrupt Saudi culture by disbanding guardianship laws altogether.
With thousands of women attempting escapes, it’s clear the country needs a change.
via: Getty ImagesThe country’s laws are inarguably unequal and are being further enforced by new technological systems.