Saudi Arabia stops forcing restaurants to have separate male and female entrances

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
Saudi women wait in line in the "women section" at of a fast food resturant in the 'Faysalia' mall in Riyadh City, on September 26, 2011, a day after Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections, in a historic first for the ultra-conservative country where women are subjected to many restrictions.AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)
Saudi women wait in line in the 'women's section' at of a fast food restaurant in Riyadh. Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images

Women in Saudi Arabia will no longer be forced to use different restaurant entrances to men, the kingdom’s government has announced.

The kingdom currently has a gender segregation policy in restaurants and elsewhere, with establishments required to maintain an entrance for men alone and another for families and women.

A Saudi ministry has now announced the rules will no longer be compulsory, in the latest of a line of gradual reforms in one of the world’s most restrictive countries for women’s rights.

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But Reuters reports social norms had already begun to gradually change in spite of the previous rules, with cafes, conference centres and restaurants no longer strictly maintaining separate doors.

A spokesman for the Saudi ministry of municipalities and rural affairs did not specify whether segregated seating within restaurants would still be enforced when asked by Reuters.

While the segregated doors are no longer compulsory, they are not banned either and restaurants could continue to use them. No change has been announced at other locations such as public buildings.

The kingdom has made headlines around the world in recent years as its crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has gradually lifted some oppressive policies.

Women were allowed to start driving last year and some parts of strict guardianship rules allowing male control of female relative’s lives have been eased.

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But the crown prince’s public image as a figure open to gradual reform has been dented abroad by crackdowns on dissent, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and arrests of critics including women’s rights activists.