Women-only space

Page semi-protected
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A women-only space is an area where only women (and in some cases children) are allowed, thus providing a place where they do not have to interact with men. Historically and globally, many cultures had, and many still have, some form of female seclusion.

Purpose and background

Women-only spaces are a form of sex segregation, and practices such as women-only public toilets, women-only passenger cars on public transport or women's parking spaces may be described using both terms.[1] They are sometimes referred to as "safe spaces".

These spaces do not go without challenge. Men's rights activists have launched lawsuits to gain access to female-only spaces, as for example Stopps v Just Ladies Fitness (Metrotown) Ltd, regarding a gym in Canada. The access of trans women, regardless of their legal gender, is also sometimes contentious, both from an ethical and from a legal perspective.[2][3][4] In some cases questions have been raised about the value and legitimacy of particular spaces being reserved for women.[5]

Women's quarters and segregated societies

Many cultures have had a tradition of a separate living space for the women of a household ("women's quarters"); this becomes more elaborate the larger the house is, reaching its peak in royal palaces.[citation needed] The best known example is probably the harem, a Turkish word, but similar systems existed elsewhere, and still do, in some places.

Some societies segregate most public facilities by sex, according to their interpretation of Islam and gender segregation; critics call this gender apartheid after the former South African system of racial division.[citation needed] The best-known examples are Saudi Arabia (Women's rights in Saudi Arabia § Sex segregation) and Iran (Sex segregation in Iran, Women's rights in Iran).

Other systems of sex segregation include Afghanistan (Taliban treatment of women) and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).


The rise of first wave feminism, including the long struggles for the vote (suffrage) – for access to education and the professions (in English-speaking societies), led to various initiatives to widen women's possibilities.

  • In the 1910s and 1920s, there was widespread encouragement in the United States for the establishment of ladies' lounges and rest rooms to accommodate rural women who traveled into county seats and market towns to conduct business. The Ladies Rest Room in Lewisburg, Tennessee, may be the last free-standing one in that state still in use.[6]
  • A ladies' ordinary was a women-only dining space which started to appear in North American hotels and restaurants from 1830, when it was socially unacceptable for women to dine in public without a male escort.[7]
  • In 1929 Virginia Woolf published an influential essay entitled "A Room of One's Own".[8]


Locations, venues, and activities may allow men at certain times of the day, week, or year; for example, public baths that have some days for women and some for men. Some allow children, either girls only or both sexes. Some establishments allow men and women in areas that are physically set apart from each other. Some exist temporarily (e.g. renting space for a few hours or days).

Businesses and services


  • The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), now a global movement for education and human rights, was for many decades best known for its hostels and fitness centres, see List of YWCA buildings
  • Other chains or stand-alone gyms choose to cater to females, e.g.Total Woman[12]

Hotels and other accommodation


  • Women's parking space
  • Pink rickshaw
  • Women-only passenger car
    • on a subway: Brazil, Egypt, India, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea, Philippines, Thailand, UAE (Rush Hour)[19]
    • buses : Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, UAE[20][21]
    • taxis: Egypt (Cairo), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), India (Kerala), Pakistan (Karachi), UAE (Dubai)[22]

Women's clubs

that have or had their own premises (parallel to a gentlemen's club), and more recently women-only restaurants and networking events[23]


Many celebrations, especially around rites of passage, are marked by a girl or woman and her female relatives and friends. For example, many cultures have a party before the wedding for the bride, in Western culture known as a hen night or bachelorette party. Parties for a pregnant woman are baby showers, usually attended by female friends and family.

Changing rooms

Places to change one's clothes, for example for leisure (at the gym, swimming pool, or beach), or for work (locker rooms at factories and hospitals), or while shopping (department store fitting rooms), are usually single-sex. Some have individual cubicles, while others provide only communal facilities, e.g. an open space with benches and lockers.

Cultural events

There are many other festivals, conferences, etc. that focus on women's achievements and women's issues, but allow anyone to attend, from the Rochester Women's Rights Convention of 1848 to today's Women of the World Festival.


When formal education was banned by the Taliban, underground schools sprung up, such as the Golden Needle Sewing School for writers to secretly discuss their work.

Health care

Historically, some health care services for women (particularly around childbirth) were staffed by women. As women gained increased access to education in the late nineteenth century, hospitals hired female physicians for female patients; nurses by this point were almost exclusively female.

During second-wave feminism, health activists set up feminist health centers, particularly in the United States. Some places are for women from one background, such as the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center. Some holistic care centres are for mothers and their children, such as Nkosi's Haven in South Africa.

Land and shelter

A family outside their hut in Umoja village

Lesbian services


Some menstrual taboos require a woman to stay at home, or avoid certain places such as temples, but other cultures assign a particular place to segregate herself from her community, for example the chhaupadi (menstrual huts) of Nepal today, or The Red Tent, a fictionalised version of Old Testament-era customs. The anthropologist Wynne Maggi describes the communal bashali (large menstrual house) of women in the Kalasha Valley (northwestern Pakistan) as their 'most holy place', respected by men and serving as women's all-female organizing centre for establishing and maintaining gender solidarity and power.[24]

The seclusion of girls at puberty (i.e. menarche) is another such custom.

Military, policing, and prisons

Motherhood and lactation

The lactation room is a modern, mostly American phenomenon, designed for using electric breast pumps and refrigerating the expressed milk. In many countries, spaces for women to nurse their babies can be known as breastfeeding rooms or nursing areas. The period of postpartum confinement was traditionally a time for new mothers to learn to care for their infant from older and more experienced women.

Places to wash and swim

A restored lavoir in Belgium

Public nudity is in many cultures restricted to single-sex groups. Public baths may separate men and women by time or by space.

Specific examples include:

In many cultures, laundry was seen as "women's work", so the village wash-house (lavoir) acted as a space for women to gather and talk together as they washed clothes.

Religious festivals

Religious places


Many amateur and most professional sports are segregated by sex.


In almost all countries, public toilets are segregated by sex.

See also


  1. ^ Browne, Kath (September 2004). "Genderism and the Bathroom Problem: (re)materialising sexed sites, (re)creating sexed bodies". Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography. 11 (3): 331–346. doi:10.1080/0966369042000258668. S2CID 145219853.
  2. ^ Julia Serano. "On the Outside Looking In". Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  3. ^ Julian Norman (22 May 2012). "Legalities of excluding trans women from women only spaces". Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  4. ^ Murphy, Mary (2014). "FEMINIST SPIRITUALITY AND GENDER Lessons From Beyond Women-Only Space". Communities. 162: 38–72. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  5. ^ Julia Long (7 December 2012). "So I'm a feminist troublemaker for requesting some women-only space?". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  6. ^ "Ladies Rest Room: correspondence 2 :: Southern Places". digital.mtsu.edu. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  7. ^ Freedman, Paul (1 September 2014). "Women and Restaurants in the Nineteenth-Century United States". Journal of Social History. 48 (1): 1–19. doi:10.1093/jsh/shu042. ISSN 0022-4529. S2CID 143102613.
  8. ^ "Because They're Worth It! Making Room for Female Students and Thealogy in Higher Education Contexts". fth.sagepub.com. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  9. ^ "SuperShe Island". SuperShe. Spring 2018. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  10. ^ Berger, Sarah (15 April 2018). "After working in a world of 'tech bros,' this woman founded a female-only island". CNBC. NBCUniversal. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  11. ^ "Travel: In L.A., spa days can stretch into night". Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  12. ^ Walker, Tom (26 February 2018). "Town Sports International acquires Total Woman Gym and Spa chain". Health Club Management. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  13. ^ "How smart hotels are catering to women and small business travellers". intheblack.com. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  14. ^ "Singapore hotel dedicates floor to women". Stuff. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  15. ^ "No men allowed!". The Economist. 26 February 2015. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Sun, sea and sisterhood: Inside Som Dona, Spain's first women-only hotel". The Daily Telegraph. 27 September 2019. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  17. ^ "Women-only Capsule Hotels sprout in Tokyo". Medill Reports Chicago. 23 February 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  18. ^ "When the Barbizon Gave Women Rooms of Their Own". The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  19. ^ "Women-only carriages around the world: do they work?". the Guardian. 26 August 2015. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  20. ^ Woolsey, Barbara. "These 5 cities have women-only transportation options". USA TODAY. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  21. ^ Kathmandu, Agence France-Presse in (5 January 2015). "Kathmandu trials women-only minibuses to tackle sexual assault". the Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  22. ^ Woolsey, Barbara. "These 5 cities have women-only transportation options". USA TODAY. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  23. ^ Williams, Zoe (4 January 2013). "No boys allowed: the rise of single-sex clubs and societies". the Guardian. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  24. ^ Maggi, Wynne (2001). Our Women are Free. Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindukush. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/mpub.11273. ISBN 978-0-472-09783-8.

Further reading

External links