Women were banned from entering a Starbucks in Saudi Arabia after a ‘gender barrier’ wall collapsed, it has been claimed.
A sign posted on the window of a Riyadh store of the coffee chain, in Arabic and English, reportedly read: “Please no entry for ladies only. Send your driver to order. Thank you.”
One woman who said she was refused service at the café wrote on Twitter: “Starbucks store in Riyadh refused to serve me just because I’m a woman and asked me to send a man instead.”
Starbucks denied that the store had a ban on women.
According to the Arabic language daily newspaper Al Weaam, the country’s religious police – the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – ordered the coffee shop’s management to ban women from the establishment after it found that a ‘segregation wall’ inside the store had given way during a routine inspection around a market in the capital city.
According to Al Weaam, the store’s management told the police that the wall had regularly collapsed because of customer stampedes.
Gender segregation is widespread in Saudi Arabia, with women requiring male permission to work, travel, study, marry or even access healthcare. They are also unable to drive or open a bank account, and must be accompanied by a male chaperone on shopping trips.
A spokeswoman for Starbucks told The Independent that the store was currently being renovated to construct a wall to accommodate single people and families, in accordance with local customs, due to be completed within the next two weeks.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
In a statement, the company said: “Starbucks in Saudi Arabia adheres to the local customs by providing separate entrances for families as well as single people.
“All our stores provide equal amenities, service, menu and seating to men, women and families.
“We are working as quickly as possible as we refurbish our Jarir store, so that we may again welcome all customers in accordance with local customs.”
In December, women in Saudi Arabia voted in municipal elections for the first time in the country’s history. Nearly 1,000 females also stood as candidates in the elections.