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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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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).
that have or had their own premises (parallel to a gentlemen's club), and more recently women-only restaurants and networking events
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.
Main article: Changing room
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.
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.
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.
See also: Culture and menstruation
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.
The seclusion of girls at puberty (i.e. menarche) is another such custom.
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.
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.
Main article: Women's sports
Many amateur and most professional sports are segregated by sex.
Main article: Sex segregation in public restrooms
In almost all countries, public toilets are segregated by sex.