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Sex segregation in Saudi Arabia

Sex segregation in Saudi Arabia

No women at the hotel gym
No women at the hotel gym
Many (perhaps most) areas of life in Saudi Arabia are segregated by sex to ensure that unrelated men and women have no possibility of "mingling" (khulwa, a punishable crime). Under the rules of segregation, all people are divided into three groups:
  • Families. The basic unit of Saudi life, families consist of women accompanied by their mahrams (legal male guardians) ? father, brother, husband, uncle, nephew ? and children.
  • Single men (bachelors). Men not accompanied by their families. Despite common use of the word "bachelor", it is irrelevant whether the man is married or not; a husband will dine in the bachelor section at lunch when alone and in the family section at dinner when with his wife. It is against the law to be accompanied anywhere by a woman who is not your wife or a family member, and religious police pay particular attention to interracial couples.
  • Single women. Women not accompanied by their families. Anathema to Saudi society, this is by far the most restricted group. Most of the facilities for families will admit single women, but they are never supposed to be allowed in the men's section, and are subject to uncomfortable stares when they are: it is against the law to be accompanied anywhere by a man who is not your husband or a family member (except a hired driver or a taxi driver). The punishment will be worse for the man than for the woman. While the man is forced to sign a written oath not to repeat the offense and may be subject to lashing or prison, women are generally "returned" to their families, with a male family member signing on her behalf. The cultural value placed on "modesty" and "honor" makes the religious police reluctant to openly "out" an offending female and will try to sweep the problem under the carpet, unless in more "egregious" cases.
  • Typical examples of segregation include:

    The Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions about Saudi Arabia

    Establishment Segregation
    Banks Separate branches for men and women, but when a women's section is not available at a branch, women are allowed in the male branch.
    Coffeeshops Mostly men only, although a few have family sections.
    Hotels Single women no longer require written permission to be allowed to check in, provided they have their own ID cards. Gyms, pools and spa are generally restricted to men only, but some female facilities are available.
    Museums Separate opening hours for families and men ("families" typically include single women).
    Restaurants Separate sections for families and men. The vast majority will allow single women into the family section.
    Shopping malls Allow all visitors, but often with evenings and weekends reserved for families and single women only.
    Shops Usually allow all visitors.

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    Saudi Arabia Travel Guide from Wikitravel. Many thanks to all Wikitravel contributors. Text is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0, images are available under various licenses, see each image for details.

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