Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United Arab Emirates, is notorious for abuse against women and their blatant disregard to women's rights. Like many countries in the Middle-East, woman are treated like second class citizens. Woman are not allowed to drive, show any signs of beauty (including the use of makup) and talk to other men except their husband or close relative. Anyone who has visited one of these countries have noticed the typical trend of men hanging out in front of stores or along the streets, some playing board games, others just conversing, but with no women in site anywhere. That is because most women stay at home and do not come out with the exception of going to work.
One additional location where women are found outside of their home is at flea markets. A photographer recently stated "The women were in burkas from head toe, although you were able to see their faces. The scene looked interesting, so I began to pick up my camera and take some shots, but as soon as I did, the women started to complain, cover their faces and waving their hands saying 'No No No'. They looked afraid, so I respected their wishes and put my camera away." This is common among those countries that follow Sharia Law, which are interpertations of laws taught by the Prophet Mohammad and posted to the Quran. Saudi Arabia is one of these countries. Recently, in the city of Riyadh, two women were turned away from entering a Starbucks coffee shop and were told to have their male drivers come in and order their coffee for them.
The reason? Many public areas in Saudi Arabia have physical gender barriers to separate women and men. During this time, the Riyadh Starbucks location was undergoing construction and there were no barriers in place, therefore only men were allowed to visit the coffee shop while all women were refused.
Many protesters took to Twitter and other social media sites to show photos of the signs posted on the doors of the Starbucks saying women were not allowed to enter the premises, and must send their driver in instead. The signs were not from Starbucks management but direct orders that had come from the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which is Saudi Arabia's religious police who enforce a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Sign reads "Please no entrance for ladies, only send your driver to order. Thank you."
Many around the world showed outrage about this blatant display of gender discrimination, but what many don't know is that this isn't all that unusual in this Arabic kingdom. Coffee shops and other public spaces in the country deny entry to single women and also single men, some even deny women all together.
Women equality and basic human rights were thought to be improving in the strictly religious nation, as just recently women were allowed to vote. However, women in Saudi Arabia are still not allowed to drive and so many were unable to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections last December because they couldn't drive themselves to the polling stations.
This serious gender barrier was brought to the attention of millions world-wide because it involved the well-known international brand Starbucks. Thousands are going to social media to bring up important questions, such as why countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are allowed to sit on the UN Council of Human Rights when both have been the worst offenders in recent history of human rights, especially when it comes to religious freedom, freedom of speech, human trafficking, use of torture, migrant and labor rights and women's rights.