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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 16:09 GMT
Women-only bank in Gulf
Dubai, United Arab Emitrates
Until now women in the conservative Gulf region have had a different style of banking.
By the BBC's Gulf correspondent, Julia Wheeler

What is believed to be the first women-only bank branch in the Gulf is to be officially launched in Dubai.

The Dubai Islamic Bank has already started opening accounts at the new branch and says it expects the concept of an all-female bank to prove increasingly popular, as more Gulf women go out to work and have greater control over their finances.

Dubai street scene
Increasing numbers of local women work in the professions or run their own businesses

Beyond the blacked-out glass of the Dubai Islamic Bank in the upmarket area of Jumeirah in Dubai, the computer screens, currency exchange rates and paperwork all look the same, but the ten staff differ from those you'd find in most United Arab Emirate (UAE) banks.

Right down to the security guard, they are all female and dressed in the traditional black abaya and sheila worn by most Gulf women.

The customers in this relaxed atmosphere are also mostly dressed in traditional fashion.

So far about 90% of account holders are UAE nationals, although the manager says expatriates are also invited to use the services.

Until now, women in the conservative Gulf region have either queued alongside male customers or used the women-only sections available at some banks.

The Dubai Islamic Bank believes it is filling a gap in the market by offering women extra privacy in their financial affairs - in some cases secrecy from their husbands - and a more relaxed atmosphere in which they can discuss their needs.

Ironically, as the Gulf becomes more liberal and increasing numbers of local women work in the professions or run their own businesses the potential for customers is likely to grow.

If there is the option, many Gulf women would prefer to discuss their financial affairs with a member of their own sex who understands their concerns through personal experience.

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