As an American woman, I have never been temporarily denied entrance to any public establishment. Sadly, the same is not true for women in Saudi Arabia who were banned from a Starbucks in Riyadh in accordance with gender laws. Although the ban was removed a few days after it was put in place, I still find an issue with the original problem that there is a gender barrier in place in Saudi Arabia.

The Starbucks in question was originally built with a wooden “gender wall” that collapsed, which was essentially a barrier between single men and women and families including children and husbands. Men are served on one side, and women are served on the other in accordance with local laws. In the case of this specific Starbucks, men were allowed to be served, but women were not because there was no wall to divide the men and women, leaving many women without their daily caffeine dosage until the wall was repaired.

I feel the need to defend myself before I begin. Please understand that I am still learning about other cultures and their customs, and I say all of these criticisms in the most sensitive manner. There was a New York Times article titled, “In Saudi Arabia, Where Women’s Suffrage Is A New Idea” that was published in November 2015, which helped enlighten me as someone who is unfamiliar with foreign affairs. In this article, it was mentioned that women were able to vote for the first time ever as of December 2015. But sadly, many women under the age of 50 were not planning on voting, partially because female candidates were barred from campaigning to or nearby men, but also because women have a driving ban in Riyadh men have to drive them to travel. Personally, I find the ban outrageous, especially because I live in a country full of opportunity for women. Having never been banned from a public space, denied a driving license or the right to vote, I find myself sympathizing for the Saudi Arabian women. The gender laws that I view as limitations are simply custom in Saudi Arabia. However, I’m shocked as a woman in the 21st century that not all women have what I believe are basic human rights. As a result of this incident, I now find myself more aware of my own culture.

The Starbucks poster that sparked the recent outrage read, “Please no entry for ladies send your driver to order. Thank you,” according to Twitter. Aside from women missing their iced caramel macchiato in the morning, the bigger issue here women not being seen as equal to men is what struck me. While the ban and separation is lawful in their culture, I was shocked at the mistreatment women endure; as an American woman, I have never experienced anything similar to this situation. Regardless of a woman’s marital status, she was banned from the Starbucks.

From a financial standpoint, it would make more sense for Starbucks to keep the doors open to women and families because “the mass brings on the cash.” Instead, Starbucks stood by the law, which in most instances I would respect. But, I find issue with this injustice because the law clearly treats women as inferior to men. My fight is not against Starbucks, but instead against gender segregation and mistreatment that has been instilled for years. I think my fight comes from my current perspective because I, thankfully, have never been treated as inferior to a man, and if ever the instance were to arise, I would address it immediately. Contrastingly, these women abide by their culture and most have no qualms about their mistreatment. While I understand this comes from a religious background, I still find issue with the mistreatment.

The banning of women from Starbucks was what piqued my interest, but I soon learned much more about another culture and their implementation of gender specific laws. While I am trying to respect another culture, I also believe in fighting against accepting these ways because women are still humans, and their basic human rights should be respected. As an American woman, I have seen my predecessors fight for my right to vote, drive and live as an independent woman without the “get married and pop out a few children” stigma and assumption. Researching this topic was completely eye-opening from an American perspective and allows me to see the world differently than I had before. While I am a huge women’s rights activist, there are plenty of laws and women that negate my motion for gender equality.

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