New Delhi: The Saudi Arabian government has announced that restaurants in the country no longer need to have separate entrances for women and men. Previously, eateries in this Middle Eastern country required to have one entrance for women and families and another for men on their own.
Several upscale restaurants and cafes in Jeddah and Riyadh had already ended the practice of gender-segregated entrances even before the government’s order Sunday. The recent move is being hailed as a progressive policy shift in a nation that has strict social rules.
A report by the BBC noted: “On Sunday, the Saudi ministry of municipalities said that restaurants would no longer need to maintain sex-segregated entrances. Instead, it would be left up to businesses to decide.”
“Until now, inside restaurants, families and women were usually cut off and separated from men on their own by screens,” added the report.
Over the past few years, the Saudi government has made several social policy changes, meant to undo the country’s long-held gender discriminatory laws and norms. Recent changes include allowing women to travel overseas independently, and the 2018 lifting of the ban on women drivers.
What does the change mean
Most restaurants have separate sections for women or women accompanied by men, and a separate section for men on their own. Smaller restaurants, that didn’t have enough space to create two separate sections, didn’t allow women altogether.
Many major global restaurant and café chains such as Starbucks also had to follow this law.
Some restaurant owners have said the move is cost-effective too. “Especially since we are facing a problem with increasing costs because we are obligated to make two counters for the two sections, and now with this amendment, the ministry (of municipalities and rural affairs) has helped us to start working and reduce costs,” Nasser Al-Shalhoub, a café owner told Arab News.
“The ministry also listed newly approved technical requirements for buildings, schools, shops and sports centres, among others, and said the decisions were to attract investment and create greater business opportunities,” noted The National.
While Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has seen multiple social policy changes, these have been accompanied by an increasing crackdown on dissent.
Moreover “activists complain that many laws that are discriminatory against women remain in place. And several prominent women’s rights advocates have been arrested even as the government has made reforms”, noted the BBC.
Especially, the alleged involvement of Riyadh in the killing of high-profile dissident Jamal Khashoggi has left the global community with mixed feelings about a changing Saudi Arabia.
(Edited by: Myithili Hazarika)
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