You may have read recently that Saudi Arabia was planning to build "women-only" industrial city, where Saudi women would be able to work and live in a man-free environment. It turns out that the story was widely misinterpreted, but it still created an enormous controversy. Supporters suggested that it would be a great commercial success, while detractors believed it would create further degradation of women’s rights in a country where few exist. It appears that in fact, there is no plan for a women-only industrial city, but rather a segregated industrial area for women, built to address the fact that women in Saudi Arabian workplaces do not generally feel welcome or even safe. This has led to near 30% unemployment among women and increasing disenfranchisement in much of the Saudi women’s community.
While I believe the solution may be well intentioned, it falls short of changing the basic cultural challenges that have created the current plight of women in Saudi Arabia and probably does little to encourage women to go to work. I wish them well in this experiment and hope that we are given insights into the results as they unfold.
But the misinterpreted premise was interesting—a city by and for women. What would we see if we could actually create cities where the economy, political structure, and government were fully controlled by women?
While many people may feel challenged (or offended) by my stance that the world is not in a good place and that the dominating masculine viewpoint is a major reason why, few would argue with me that a city run by women would be very different.
Consider women’s attraction to collaboration over competition. Collectives as corporations, such as the Mondragon Corporation of Spain, exemplify the kinds of collaboration we might find in a women-run city. Mondragon’s model of worker cooperatives (the corporation consists of worker cooperatives in the finance, industry, retail, and knowledge sectors) has led it to become the seventh largest Spanish company in terms of assets and the leading business group in the Basque Country.
Mondragon’s business model embraces the often quoted but rarely demonstrated principle that people are its greatest asset. The corporation’s cooperatives are highly participative and rooted in worker commitment to common goals, with a strong social dimension and superior business performance.
This kind of business model is sensitive to workers’ needs and leads to stronger social structures while also decreasing the gap between the richest and the poorest within a company. Everyone benefits from the success of the company—but only if the company succeeds. In a city run by women, I believe that collaborative corporate culture would value work-life balance, flexible work schedules, work-share, and quality childcare. Imagine: corporations designed to be an integral part of the community.
Women want to live (and have their children live) in healthy integrated communities with great childcare, education, health services, cultural recreation, and parks. Women not only often decide how family income gets spent, making 85% of these decisions (which is why there is so much money spent on selling to women) but they also make key decisions about everyday life such as the programming of family time, neighborhoods to live in, parks to frequent, and so on.
I’d put my money on a women-only city and I’d love to see this experiment play out. Given the state of the planet and the challenges we face, what do we have to lose?