The change in rules is the latest in a series of reforms that aim to turn Saudi Arabia into a tourist attraction and facilitate business investments.
Rabat – The Saudi Ministry of Municipalities and Rural Affairs announced that restaurants in Saudi Arabia will no longer need to have entrances segregated by sex. The ministry made the announcement on Twitter on Sunday, December 8.
لأنشطة المطاعم والمطابخ: اشتراط
مدخل للعزاب ومدخل للعوائل، وطول
الواجهة، وعدم تحديد مساحات خاصة،
إضافة إلى “السماح” بعمل المطابخ في
الأدوار العلوية بشرط وضع كاميرات مراقبة
مرتبطة بشاشات.#وزارة_الشؤون_البلدية_والقروية pic.twitter.com/xj9aQRCVdc
— وزارة الشؤون البلدية والقروية (@saudimomra) December 8, 2019
The change in rules puts an end to gender restrictions that had been in place for decades. Prior to the change, Saudi Arabia required all restaurants to have two different entrances, one for families and women, and another one for single men. The restriction also banned women from entering restaurants and cafes that are not large enough to apply the separation.
The ministry, however, did not specify if the segregated areas inside restaurants will also be eliminated.
Men and women who are not related have been banned from sharing public spaces for decades.
The new change is not compulsory. Restaurants have the right to maintain the separate entrances if their managers decide to do so, a Saudi official told the press.
The rule on separate entrances for schools and hospitals has not been repealed, however.
A number of conservative Saudis view gender segregation in public spaces as a religious requirement. Other Muslim countries in the region, however, do not have laws on gender separation.
The ministry announced the reform in a list of newly-approved requirements for buildings, schools, stores, and sports centers.
The list of decisions aims to attract investments and create greater business opportunities, according to the Saudi administration.
This reform is the latest of a series of social reforms launched by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In recent years, the Saudi prince lifted bans on women driving and on public entertainment. He also reduced the powers of the kingdom’s religious police, whose job is to enforce conservative social norms, including separation between genders in public.
In August 2019, Saudi Arabia lifted a controversial ban on travel by allowing women to apply for a passport and travel freely, ending a guardianship policy that reduced women’s freedom of travel.
The reforms are also part of bin Salman’s “2030 Vision” to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and to boost tourism’s contribution to the country’s GDP from 3% to 10%.
In September, the kingdom launched a new visa program that allows the entry of tourists from 52 countries and territories.
Saudi Arabia also relaxed its dress code requirements for foreign women.
The wave of reforms comes after years of human rights controversies and the media storm surrounding the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.