Saudi Arabia lifts ban on gender segregation in restaurants

Women will no longer have to be segregated from men in restaurants in Saudi Arabia, according to the country’s government.

The announcement from the Saudi ministry of municipalities and rural affairs comes as the latest reform to ease the strict social rules that have been in effect across the kingdom for decades.

It cited a desire to attract investments and greater business opportunities as a reason for the decision, in a statement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

Until now, women in Saudi Arabia have been required to use separate entrances and sit behind partitions when dining out to prevent them being visible to single men.

They were forbidden entry to any restaurant or cafe that was too small to uphold this mandatory segregation.

This is part of what the conservative Muslim country has traditionally viewed as a requirement in line with religion, although other Muslim-majority countries do not have similar restrictions.

The ban against Saudi women driving was lifted last year

Image: The ban against Saudi women driving was lifted last year

For decades, it has been strictly prohibited for unrelated men and women to mix in public, with women also being required to ask permission from their legal guardian – usually a male family member or husband – on important life decisions.

More from Saudi Arabia

But Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has looked to relax these rules by ordering a number of reforms and reducing the powers of the kingdom’s religious police.

In 2017, women were allowed entry into sports stadiums in family designated sections, while a year later they were also given the right to drive.

This August, a further ban was lifted to allow women to apply for a passport and travel without first obtaining the permission of their male guardian.

Despite the rules being relaxed in a number of institutions and practices, gender segregation still remains in Saudi Arabia.

Women and men are still kept separate at weddings, and most government-run schools and public universities.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has recently been accused of ‘sportswashing’ by hosting the Anthony Joshua v Andy Ruiz Jr boxing world heavyweight fight, and allegedly trying to improve its reputation as the country has a poor record on human rights.

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