The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. The specific issue is: This is article is missing discussion of non-Western examples of women-only spaces such as, for example, women-only sections of malls, restaurants, etc. in Saudi Arabia (May 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
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A women-only space is an area where only women 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. They are sometimes referred to as "safe spaces". The goal is to provide women an area free of male judgement or harassment.
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, with or without legal recognition of their acquired gender, is also sometimes contentious, both from an ethical and from a legal perspective. In some cases questions have been raised about the value and legitimacy of particular spaces being reserved for women.
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. The best known example is probably the harem, a Turkish word, but similar systems existed elsewhere, and still do, in some places.
- Andaruni (in traditional Persian residential architecture in what is now Iran)
- Seraglio (Ottoman Empire)
- Zenana (South Asia) - hence, Zenana missions, providing medical and educational support to segregated women
- Purdah (South Asia)
- Terem (Russia)
- Ōoku (Japan)
- Gynaeceum (Ancient Greece)
- Anthapura or Antahpura (India)
Some societies segregate most public facilities by sex, according to their interpretation of Islam and gender segregation; critics calls this gender apartheid after the former South African system of racial division. 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). More disputed regimes 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.
- 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.
- In 1929 Virginia Woolf published an influential essay entitled "A Room of One's Own".
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
- Women-only bank
- See also the kitty party, an informal savings club
- Women's parking space
- Women-only passenger car on a train
- 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
- Of this international list of women's organizations, some have their own premises; others such as the Women's Institute offer their members a women-only space for the duration of the meeting
- Community centres focusing on women, such as The Women's Building in San Francisco and Pankhurst Centre in Manchester
- Sex shops catering to women, such as Sh! Women's Erotic Emporium
- Feminist bookstores may have women-only and mixed-sex times
- Resorts such as SuperShe Island
- Spas (see also section on public bathing, below)
- Hotels, either by floor, or as the entire business (e.g. the "urban retreat" and spa the Luthan Hotel in Riyadh and Som Dona in Majorca, and capsule hotels in Japan)
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.
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.
- Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (closed after 40th anniversary in 2015)
- Nyansapo Festival, an Afro-feminist festival in Paris in 2017
- Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, a weekly music night in Chicago (1974-2005)
- Race for Life, a British charity event that raises money for cancer
- Marches to protest and celebrate, such as Take Back the Night and the Dyke March
- Yamurikuma, a gender role reversal festival of some Xingu tribes
- The Fainting Club, a supper club described as an old boys' club for girls
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.
- Girls' schools, i.e. single-sex education, see also Category:Girls' schools
- Women's colleges and universities
- Finishing school
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.
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.
- Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Obstetric Hospital is named after one of Britain's first female physicians
- London School of Medicine for Women, the first medical school to train women as doctors
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
- Womyn's land, stemming from separatist feminism of the 1970s
- Anti-war activism such as Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in the UK and Seneca Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in the US
- Umoja, Kenya, a village of women and children fleeing domestic violence
- Jinwar, Syria, a village for women without a husband and their children
- Women's shelter, a place of temporary accommodation for women fleeing domestic violence, e.g. Vancouver Rape Relief & Women's Shelter
- Some homeless shelters are just for women, e.g. Rosie's Place
- Most rape crisis centers
- Cruises and vacation resorts such as those operated by Olivia Travel
- Lesbian bars such as the now-closed Candy Bar in London; The Lexington Club in San Francisco
- June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives
- Lesbian Connection network forum
- Lesbian Herstory Archives
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.
Military, policing, and prisons
- Some countries operate or operated separate services for women, such as the UK's Women's Royal Air Force, see Category:All-female military units and formations
- Women's police station
- The incarceration of women is in most countries in single-sex prisons, or female-only wings within larger men's prisons, see Category:Women's 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
Public nudity is in many cultures restricted to single-sex groups. So public baths may separate men and women by time or by space.
- Turkish bath, hammam, see especially its function as a gendered social space
- Mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath
Specific examples include:
- Frauenbad Stadthausquai, a public bath built in Switzerland in the late 19th century for women, and which still operates as such
- Hampstead Heath Ladies' Pond, a reservoir in a London park
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.
- Attukal Pongala- Hindu festival in Kerala, India
- Thesmophoria in Ancient Greece
- Karva Chauth, celebrated by Hindu women in Northern India
- Women's mosques, which have existed for centuries in China; in the 21st century, new examples have been created around the world
- More generally, the women's space in most mosques, see Gender separation in mosques
- Gender separation in Judaism, as for example the mechitza used to demarcate women's space in a synagogue
- Convent, the home of Christian nuns
- Double monastery, with separate space for monks (men) and nuns (women)
- Beguinage, all-women accommodation in the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands)
Many amateur and most professional sports are segregated by sex.
In almost all countries, public toilets are segregated by sex.
- 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.
- Julia Serano. "On the Outside Looking In". Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- Julian Norman (22 May 2012). "Legalities of excluding trans women from women only spaces". Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- Murphy, Mary (2014). "FEMINIST SPIRITUALITY AND GENDER Lessons From Beyond Women-Only Space". Communities. 162: 38–72. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
- Julia Long (7 December 2012). "So I'm a feminist troublemaker for requesting some women-only space?". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 January 2013.
- "Ladies Rest Room: correspondence 2 :: Southern Places". digital.mtsu.edu. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
- 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.
- "Because They're Worth It! Making Room for Female Students and Thealogy in Higher Education Contexts". fth.sagepub.com. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
- Williams, Zoe (4 January 2013). "No boys allowed: the rise of single-sex clubs and societies". the Guardian. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
- "SuperShe Island". SuperShe. Spring 2018. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
- 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.
- Walker, Tom (26 February 2018). "Town Sports International acquires Total Woman Gym and Spa chain". Health Club Management. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
- "Travel: In L.A., spa days can stretch into night". Retrieved 4 March 2018.
- "How smart hotels are catering to women and small business travellers". intheblack.com. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
- "Singapore hotel dedicates floor to women". Stuff. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
- "No men allowed!". The Economist. 26 February 2015. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
- "Sun, sea and sisterhood: Inside Som Dona, Spain's first women-only hotel". The Daily Telegraph. 27 September 2019. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
- "Women-only Capsule Hotels sprout in Tokyo". Medill Reports Chicago. 23 February 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
- W. Maggi, 2001. Our Women are Free. Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindukush. Michigan: University of Michigan Press
- Brotman, Barbara (23 October 1986). "Dictionary For 'Womyn' Says Half Of Society Is A Dirty 3-letter Word". Chicago Tribune.
- Enke, A. Finn (2007). Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism (1st ed.). Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-4062-1.
- Fenson, Zoe (22 February 2019). "Why women-only spaces still matter". The Week.
- Women-only space
- Respect women's-only space
- Exploring the Value of Women-Only Space
- Women-Only Spaces: An Alternative To Patriarchy