A decision by Starbucks Coffee Company to ban women from entering one of its outlets in Saudi Arabia has sparked uproar on social media, with users worldwide calling for a boycott.
Saudi Arabia, which practises an austere version of Islam, has an abysmal human rights record, particularly with regards to protecting women. Although in recent years the rights of women have been incrementally extended – including a royal decree which allowed females to vote in local elections in December 2015 – their actions are still heavily restricted (see restrictions against women box below).
Local media revealed last week that Saudi Arabia's religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, had forbidden women from entering a Starbucks coffee shop in the capital Riyadh after a "gender-separating" wall collapsed. A note taped to the door of the establishment told women to get their drivers to order for them instead.
This created much public controversy, with social media users sharing their outrage. A French cartoonist, Herve Baudry, for instance, shared one of its artworks on Twitter:
Users, such as Valerie Aubouin, called for a boycott. She wrote on Twitter: "If Starbucks bend over the non-respect of women's rights, I will not be a customer! #BoycottStarbucks".
This trending hashtag was shared by another user, Guillaume Balas, who wrote: "Starbucks prefers money to most fundamental rights of human beings, let's stop giving us ours."
Starbucks told the US magazine Cosmopolitan it "adheres to local customs by building separate entrances for families and individuals". "All our coffee stores provide equipment, services, menus and egalitarian seats between men, women and families," the chain said.
Saudi Arabia's restrictions against women
- Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive
- When leaving the house, Saudi women need to be accompanied by a "mahram" who is usually a male relative that a woman cannot marry at any time in her life
- A woman cannot open a bank account without her husband's permission
- Some restaurants ban single women "to avoid shocking behaviour"
- Saudi women cannot go for a swim
- A law prevents female patients visiting a male doctor, without being accompanied by a male guardian
- Trying clothes when shopping is forbidden
- While they were allowed to compete in sports, women have to be accompanied by a male guardian and wear a "Sharia-compliant" sports kit that covers their hair
- A woman is barred from entering a cemetery
- Saudi women are banned from reading an uncensored fashion magazine
- Buying a Barbie doll is forbidden as the toys are seen to stand for luxurious excess and physical beauty