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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