The idea of ladies-only pools was not always welcomed in the past amid the conservative society in the Gaza Strip. But more and more of these pools are opening along the Gaza beach as women find a haven there to relax, especially in light of the power crisis and frequent electricity cuts during the summer.
“I wait for summer every year to be able to go to the pool at Al-Nawras Tourist Resort in the Gaza Strip. I feel I can swim away all my distress there, and I really love the place. We get to have some privacy, as it is [a private establishment] and safe, and the entrance fees are very affordable. I only pay $4 and get to have the kids in too,” said Khouloud Abu Nahl.
Abu Nahl, a Gazan woman who goes to Al-Nawras pool weekly with her children and friends, added, “I frequently visit the swimming pool at Al-Nawras. … Booking a chalet [at other resorts] costs at least $150, and this is a lot in light of the bad economic situation plaguing Gaza. The ladies-only swimming pool [at the resort], where we and the kids enjoy ourselves all day, barely cost us anything."
For Gazans, the beach is the only respite they have amid deteriorating economic conditions. However, the Water and Environmental Quality Authority in Gaza issued a statement in June saying beach pollution rates hit alarming levels due to power outages and wastewater leakage into the sea, thus prompting people to look for cheap alternatives.
Al-Monitor visited several swimming pools in the Gaza Strip that dedicate specific days to women only and found that people in charge are keen to provide all the necessary services for women while respecting their privacy. In addition to Al-Nawras, these include Gouna Beach Resort, Huda Resort and Hotel, and Dolphin Tourist Resort.
There, hygiene regulations such as sterilization and pool cleanliness were applied, and employees were all females who specialized in various fields of cleaning, hospitality, massage and rescue. These resorts also house cafeterias that provide various snacks, quick meals, drinks, sweets and water toys for children, among other amenities.
The resorts and their amenities give women a great deal of privacy and freedom. As opposed to public beaches where women have to wear non-swimsuit clothing because male guests are there, women are free to wear swimwear.
Mahmoud Herzallah, manager of Al-Nawras Tourist Resort, told Al-Monitor, “There is a huge turnout of women, as the ladies-only pool operates daily for about 12 hours, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. In order for women to feel safe and private, we upped the fence of the pool, and we only hired female lifeguards and cafeteria workers.”
“There is a swimming pool for kids and it is free of charge. There are also swimming courses inside Al-Nawras for women, men and children. We did not face criticism from society over the idea of ladies-only pools, and we have not yet encountered any problems in this regard,” added Herzallah.
Of note, the newly created tourism police in Gaza is constantly following up on tourist resorts and any developments related to swimming pools or music events. Resorts and this police force work together for the safety and security of resort visitors.
Amal al-Barawi, director of Al-Jalaa Gym in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “For several years, I have been organizing trips for girls to chalets, but chalet pools are neither suitable for swimming nor for various water sports due to the small size of the place, the large number of visitors and the lack of hygiene.”
“So at the beginning of this year, I started organizing trips to ladies-only swimming pools, such as Gouna Beach Resort, especially since its prices are reasonable. Women pay no more than $3 for the entrance fee, and they get to swim and do water sports all day long. The pool is big, clean and, most importantly, private,” she added.
Barawi said the size of the swimming pool at Gouna Beach Resort allows women to partake in water sports such as water aerobics, stretching, Zumba, Korean exercises and yoga, among other exercises.
The swimming pool is clean, she said, and management is keen on regularly sterilizing it amid the coronavirus pandemic. The privacy the resort offers dispels any concerns women initially had over taking part in water activities there.
Barawi published post-workout photos of the ladies on the gym’s Facebook page as they prepared breakfast; the photos received a large number of likes and comments and were widely shared, indicating many women welcomed the idea.
Khamis Lulu, manager of Gouna Beach Resort, told Al-Monitor, “The idea of opening swimming pools for women started a year ago. At first, we would only dedicate a day every week to women, but after we saw that so many women welcomed the idea, we decided to build a private pool for them.”
“Establishing swimming pools for women was never a financial issue for me. I sought to provide a safe swimming area for women — a place where they have the privacy they need. The entrance fee is only $3 per woman, and there are two women from the marine rescue who are always ready to help.”
“Not only does the pool provide women with the privacy they need, but it also provides them with a safe space for them overlooking the beach, and this is very relaxing for them,” he added.
As at other resorts, Lulu said women are not obliged to buy from the cafeteria and have the option to bring in what they want from their homes or from other places outside of the resort.
Those who want to hold birthday parties are also welcomed to do so. Lulu said the resort provides speakers and the venue for free, which contributes to a larger turnout. The kids' swimming pool is also a huge draw for parents.