Kerre McIvor: Women-only living a sad prospect

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Locked gates and electronic keys can feel like prison. Photo / Getty Images
Locked gates and electronic keys can feel like prison. Photo / Getty Images

Years ago, as a group of 20-something women working in television, we decided that when we got old, we'd buy a villa together and convert it into apartments.

We'd rent out smaller rooms to handsome young medical students and, in return for minimal rent, the handsome young medical students would look after our ageing bodies and we'd have something pretty to look at with the hydrangeas.

When we chose to get together, we would share raucous stories from our past and we would continue to live the lives we were enjoying presently - independent, fast-paced and unencumbered by husbands and children.

And then of course we grew up.

All of us married, some of us have children and now we're older than we ever imagined we'd be when we pictured ourselves living together in the Home for Growing Old Disgracefully.

It's still an option, though - and I suppose on the surface it's not much different from the women-only rental accommodation being offered in Rotorua.

A property developer, who wishes to remain anonymous, has renovated a block of flats in the city, flats the rental agent described as being "ghastly" before their makeover.

Only women will be able to rent and live in the 10 single-bedroom apartments in Glenholme, and although the properties are still being renovated, four women have signed on the dotted line. Interest is such that the developer is looking for another block to replicate the concept.

Apparently, the women-only stipulation and the high levels of security are the main attraction.

There are locked gates, electronic keys and video security within the apartment complex - and although it certainly sounds safe, it also sounds like a women's prison, especially given the tiny scale of the apartments. They're too small, apparently, for children over 3.

Rotorua Rentals co-director Richard Evans believes they will appeal to overseas students as well as women who want properties they can lock up and leave.

Historically, most cities around the world have had women-only boarding hostels - safe havens for good girls who arrived in the big smoke looking to make their fame and fortune.

In New York City, the most famous of those, the Barbizon Hotel for Women, housed Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath, Candice Bergen, Liza Minnelli and Ali McGraw during their early days in the Big Apple.

The Barbizon is now just your bog-standard apartment building, and tenants of both sexes are welcome, but according to the New York Times, a smattering of women-only hostels are alive and well in New York and there are waiting lists of prospective tenants.

The main attraction appears to be the cheap rent, but residents also cited the appeal of a secure building where men aren't allowed beyond the ground floor.

But how often are single women terrorised and assaulted by their (male) neighbours in hostels or apartment blocks?

Statistics, here and overseas, show women are overwhelmingly more likely to be assaulted by their partners, not by strangers or neighbours, so perhaps if women want to keep themselves safe, they should eschew all relationships with members of the opposite sex, rather than cloister themselves away in a women-only compound.

I can see the apartments being popular with women who may have come out of an abusive relationship, but not the "busy, hard-working, single" women the Rotorua Rental ads are targeting. Most busy, hard-working single women I know aren't so terrified of men that they would find a tiny room in a women-only complex attractive.

As to whether it's even legal to offer apartments to one specific gender, that remains to be seen.

The Human Rights Act says people renting properties are unable to discriminate on the grounds of gender, but there is a bit of wriggle room when it comes to institutions, shared accommodation and hostels.

A person of the male persuasion would probably have to be refused an apartment within the complex and then complain to the Human Rights Commission to test the Act.

It seems a shame some women are so fearful of men. Because ultimately that's what demand for a women's apartment complex suggests.

I can understand women living together as lovers and partners.

I understand the concept of women sharing a living space for company and to share costs but women cowering together through fear of the opposite sex is just plain sad.

Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, weekdays, noon-4pm

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- Herald on Sunday

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