Women in Saudi Arabia will no longer have to use a dedicated entrance or sit behind partitions in restaurants after a recent government decision.

The decision was quietly announced by the Municipal and Rural Affairs Ministry on Sunday in a lengthy statement.

The announcement was buried in between technical announcements about the length of building facades and stated that restaurants would no longer need to "specify private spaces".

In a statement published in the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the Government said the move was made to attract investments and create business opportunities in the country.


Some restaurants and cafes in the cities of Jeddah and Riyadh have already been allowing unrelated men and women to sit next to each other, but the new move will allow places countrywide to do the same.

The move is a sensitive one among the religious traditionalists in Saudi Arabia who view segregation as a religious requirement despite their Muslim neighbours not having the same segregation rules.

Some Western chains have been segregating areas for families and allowing women who are out on their own or with a male relative to be seated together and "single" areas for men by themselves.

Larger restaurants throughout the country often have separate entrances for women and rooms for families so women are out of sight of single men.

Smaller restaurants without the room for separate entrances and participations just ban women from coming in altogether.

While the new rules allow for segregation to end, they do not force restaurants to comply.

Some places, particularly in more conservative areas of the country, may indeed continue with the practice without falling foul of the law.



The slow march to equality is still ongoing throughout the country. Saudi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been pushing for social reform in recent times.

As part of his reforms, the Crown Prince has curtailed the powers of the country's religious police who have been enforcers of conservative social norms like segregation.

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

Women only recently gained the ability to drive in the country. Photo / AP
Women only recently gained the ability to drive in the country. Photo / AP

In August this year, the country lifted a controversial travel ban by allowing all citizens, both men and women, to apply for a passport and travel more freely.

Despite some relaxation of the rules, women's rights in Saudi Arabia are still severely limited.

The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2018 listed the country as one of the world's worst-performing countries for women's rights.

It came in at 141 out of 149 countries – the worst in the G20.

Women must still be kept separate at weddings and most government-run schools and universities.