In Saudi Arabia, men and women still live very different realities. Up until 2018, women couldn’t drive, and until this change, when women entered restaurants they had to use separate entrances or sit behind plastic partitions that separated them from men they weren’t related to.
The country is gradually stripping back its conservative restrictions and gender segregation rules in public.
The announcement from the municipal and rural affairs ministry simply legislates against the gender segregation practices which were upheld among more conservative and traditional Saudi citizens who believed the segregation necessary under religious laws.
Other public spaces, including government schools and universities, remain places where men and women operate separately. Weddings also require male and female parties to be separately seated.
The enforcement of these regulations has become more relaxed in the last few years, as the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, began pushing for more progressive reforms by curtailing the powers historically given to the country’s religious police.
Earlier this year, the country of 33 million announced plans to lift male guardianship restrictions on women wanting to travel outside of the country. Previously women were required to have a male guardian (father, husband, son, brother or uncle) who has far reaching control over many aspects of their life.
Women have continued to be the victims of a profoundly patriarchal regime, from strict laws that restrict their autonomy, to jailing or killing women that break the rules.
When the Saudi government announced that a 61-year ban on women driving would be lifted in June 2018, several well-known activists were jailed in the lead up for their role in the Women2Drive campaign that launched in 2011.
It was only in 2013 when the country’s first domestic violence awareness campaign was launched. The country is home to one of the world’s youngest populations; half of its population are under the age of 25.