A photo of a Starbucks in Saudi Arabia has sparked debate and controversy amongst feminists and human rights activists everywhere. Recently, a woman in Saudi Arabia tweeted an image of a sign outside a Starbucks that declared in both English and Arabic, “Please no entry for ladies. Only send your driver to order. Thank you!” Twitter user Manar M claims she experienced the gender segregation in a Starbucks in Riyadh.
Starbucks has, in turn, received angry complaints and threats of boycott. However, the international coffee chain may not be to blame in this instance. Saudi laws and local custom indicate that not only are women prohibited from driving, but restaurant chains have been forced to separate men and women using a physical partition. At this Starbucks, according to the BBC, the “gender separator” had collapsed, forcing the coffee shop to temporarily ban women from entering the shop, for fear of breaking local laws and customs.
"We have worked with local authorities to obtain approval to refurbish one of our stores in Jarir, which was originally built without a gender wall," a Starbucks rep told CNN. "That meant it could only accommodate men in accordance with local law. This was the only such Starbucks store in Saudi Arabia. During construction, the store could only accommodate and serve single men, and a poster was placed at the store entrance as required by local law."
Such laws are enforced in Saudi Arabia by the religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. As of this week, the store’s partition has been restored, and both men and women can now order lattes through separate entrances.