On February 1, Manar N exposed the sexist rules of a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh.
The tweet went viral and sparked an important conversation about cultural relativism and respecting women’s rights, prompting the coffee shop to erect a gender wall allowing the women to enter inside.
Nice move, Starbucks, but as a woman who grew up with “gender walls”, I am unimpressed.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the laws and customs of Saudi Arabia, all stores are required to segregate men and women’s spaces. Men have the privilege to enter both the “Single Section”, or the “Family Section” when accompanied by women and/or children. At most restaurants and coffee shops, there is no space for women only.
A sign displayed outside a Starbucks in Riyadh bars women from entering the coffee shop.
Having a “gender wall” means women get the smallest, darkest, and the most crowded area to sit in. The “Family Section” of most restaurants is incredibly small. If a woman even accidentally enters the “Single Section”, she is escorted out immediately.
How can a company like Starbucks, which was named one of the world’s most ethical businesses for the ninth year in a row, continue to operate in a nation with such repressive laws? By continuing to do business in Saudi Arabia, Starbucks is financially benefiting from the oppression of women.
As a result of the backlash against the sexist policies of the coffee shop, Starbucks responded by erecting a “gender wall” segregating single men from women and families.
As a Muslim feminist, I believe businesses have a moral obligation to not open franchises in countries with gender apartheid. Until then, I will stand by my opinion that as a corporation that profits from oppression, Starbucks does not deserve the title of the world’s “most ethical” business.
This article is written by Naba Rizvi.