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Saudi Arabia's first women-only hotel: Is it progress?

Some say it's a sanctuary for business women. Others see it as another sign of gender segregation in a male-dominated society.

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A sanctuary? The Luthan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, means "sanctuary " in Arabic. The hotel is owned by a Saudi princess and has an all-female board of directors.

Hasan Jamali/ap

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In Saudi Arabia's newest hotel, flickering candles in every corner enhance the serenity. And as you walk down royal-red halls, you'll notice something else: not a man in sight.

"It's women-owned, women-managed, and women-run – from our IT engineer to our electrical engineer," boasts Lorraine Coutinho, executive director of the Luthan Hotel & Spa.

To some, Saudi Arabia's first women-only hotel is a sign of progress, a place where women can conduct business without interference in a male-dominated society.

Until January, women could not check into any hotel alone unless accompanied by a male family member or they had written permission from a male "guardian." Now, the only requirement is that the hotel register the names of female guests with the police.

But others say the new hotel simply reinforces gender segregation in a nation that still doesn't let women drive.

"It's not good because maybe some people will try to make other hotels to keep ladies separate from the men," says Hasna al-Qunayeer, a professor of Arabic linguistics at King Saud University. "Always they will keep men and women separate."

Her daughter agrees.

"It's taking a step backwards," says Aseel al Bakr. "These religious clerics are trying to say that men and women [being] together could lead to adultery. And it's not true."

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