Saudi Arabia ends gender segregation in restaurants

Restaurants no longer have to provide separate entrances and dining areas for men and women

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Saudi Arabia has abolished rules requiring restaurants to provide separate entrances and areas for women and families and for male patrons dining alone.

The decision was announced on Sunday by the Municipal and Rural Affairs Ministry on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, in the latest step towards overturning gender restrictions.

The ministry said it was “removing a requirement by restaurants to have an entrance for single men and another for families”, and that restaurants no longer need to “specify private spaces”.

Some restaurants and cafes in Jeddah and Riyadh's upscale hotels had already been allowing unrelated men and women to sit together but the norm was that they were not permitted to mix in public. 
Restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including major western chains such as Starbucks, are segregated into "family" sections for women on their own or accompanied by male relatives, and "singles" sections for just men.

Many also have separate entrances for women and partitioned areas or rooms for families where they are not visible to single men.

In smaller restaurants or cafes with no space for segregation, women were not allowed in.

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.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for sweeping social reforms in recent years to open up the kingdom to foreign investors and diversify the economy away from a reliance on oil.

The kingdom now regularly hosts international sporting events and musical performances that women and men can attend.

Two years ago, women for the first time were allowed to attend sports events in stadiums in the “family” sections.

Young girls in recent years have also been allowed access to physical education and sports in school.

In August, the kingdom lifted a controversial ban on travel by allowing all citizens to apply for a passport and for women to travel freely without a male guardian.