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					 1. Women and Work: Saudi Arabia


A business woman walks into a hotel. A young girl welcomes her. She is the hotel
receptionist. She asks the business woman to sign some payment forms. Then the
hotel worker gives the woman her room keys. The business woman smiles. She
likes staying here. The young hotel worker turns to welcome the next customer -
also a woman. In fact, there are no men here all. This is a women-only hotel! The
Luthan Hotel lies in Saudi Arabia's capital city - Riyadh. It is the kingdom's first
women-only hotel! The hotel workers are women. The customers are women. And
the owners are women!

Part of the idea is to create a place where women can be at ease. They do not have
to keep their heads covered as they do in front of men. They do not have to depend
on male family members to take them to the hotel, or to organize their stay. And
the women are free to use all the hotel services all the time - like the swimming
pool, exercise room and spa. In normal hotels, women can only use these services
at particular times.

The Luthan hotel opened in 2008. And it already has the support of many business
women. Saudi Arabia has rules that limit women from travelling alone. Until
recently, women could not get a room in a hotel without a signed letter of
permission from a male family member. Ms Homoud remembers a bad experience
she had when travelling alone. She flew to Jeddah for a meeting. But she forgot to
take her father's letter - saying he permitted her to go. She tells how the hotel
refused to give her a room without the letter. And that it was late at night. Ms
Hamoud had to telephone a male friend. He got the room for her in his business'
name. Bad experiences like this do not happen in a women-only hotel.

There are other reasons why women like the Luthan Hotel. Business women
welcome a place where they can do business without men around. They see the
Luthan as a sign of progress. It is enabling them to work and rest without male
restrictions.

But not everyone sees it in this way. Some women do not support the idea of a
female-only hotel. They worry that in the future, it may bring more restrictions in
the country. There are already laws that stop men and women mixing together.
What if the law-makers decide to make all hotels male-only or female-only? What
if all public places become like this? There would increase the divides between
men and women even more.

The Luthan Hotel is just one of many ‘female only' places in Saudi Arabia. There
are banks with female-only branches. There is a whole block of stores that are
women only. And there are even plans for a female only university!
It will be the largest of its kind - with room for forty thousand students. There are
high hopes for the university. Some people say it will offer subjects that are
usually difficult for women to study, in a male governed society. Women with
greater skills could go on to help develop Saudi Arabia's economy. UNESCO is
the United Nation's group concerned with education. It says that almost sixty
percent of Saudi students are female. Yet only 16% of the Saudi workforce are
women! Yet the percentage of women in education is more than three times this
number!


Hotels and universities for women exist in many parts of the world because some
women prefer them. But the idea is new in Saudi Arabia. What are your
thoughts on female-only places in Saudi Arabia? Are they opening the door to
employment and freedom for women? Or, are they simply a different kind of
restriction?

				
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