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World Summit blog: Hotels and women

Tunis WSIS, the low-down

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You can directly measure the quality of a hotel by the amount of stuff in the room that leaves with the guest.

God only knows why you would want a tiny sewing kit or a miniscule bottle of moisturiser, but the better the hotel, the more they call out to you. Or the pens and paper. In the old days, being branded with a hotel's name would mean people were embarassed to be seen with them outside its walls. Nowadays, it's seen an invitation to stuff em in your bag - they call in branding in the wrong circles.

An extremely good hotel, meanwhile, can be instantly recognised by the tell-tale towelling-robe bulge in departing guests' luggage.

On this scale though, my hotel in Tunis isn't doing too well. In fact it is going to end up with more in it that when I arrived. I only hope they leave it all here for the next guest. So far, two knives have been added to the room, along with three glasses, a corkscrew and some soap. There is also two bottles of wine and two litre bottles of water. But they are not going to be here when I leave in 10 days - in fact they may not be here tomorrow morning if I can't find something to do round here later.

I'm not being a skinflint either. You can buy wine at the restaurant to take away. But after three mouthfuls, it is not so much take-away as throw-away. There is currently half of a 15-dinar bottle of this very special grape underneath one of the sun shades on the beach in an up-turned container. Hard as it is to believe, the taste of it was actually detracting from my view last night.

Fortunately a huge hypermarche just off the main road into Tunis has supplied me with two bottles of far superior wine (although the only selection was Tunisian wine, Tunisian wine or Tunisian wine) for less than the house gasoline. I also bought some food because I ate in the hotel restaurant as well last night.

I swear to god I nearly added a TV and phone to the shopping list. In fact, I'm not sure I won't do just that tomorrow. And a kettle. I'm going to be the best guest this hotel ever had.

Of course in the current climate, with the World Summit starting officially in a few days and hundreds of highly important and rich folk descending on the Tunisian capital, there is a new measure of your hotel's quality: secret policemen.

There is only one on the front gate of my hotel, with another prowling round the grounds and a third popping every now and again for a chat. There is another at the end of the road, which serves three hotels, along with a policeman. And over the road, taking shelter from the heat and rain in the bushes, another two secret and two uniformed plods.

This is as nothing compared to the main big-wig hotels, however. Visiting one of them was like getting into Iraq's Green Zone. Two roadblocks before not one, not two, but three checks before I even got the front door. There I was greetd by another four plain clothes officers outside, another ten or so in the lobby and three - since increased to four - on every single corridor.

There can't be a single Tunisian man with his own grey suit not acting as security this week.

Tunisia and women

If 80 pe rcent of men between 25 and 40 are in a grey suit standing at the end of roads, their other halves are all sporting stylish red suits, hanging round public buildings, looking pretty and being endlessly helpful.

There is a strange issue of female equality in Tunisia. In my official summit pack came a whole load of information about the country itself. Three beautifully printed booklets under the name "Tunisia. Progress for all." One covered history, government, foreign policy, economy etc etc. The second, key economic and social indicators, gave over a whole page to "Women". "Tunisia has made the promotion of women in all walks of life, and their involvement in the development process, one of the cornerstones of its social policies," it begins, before pointing out that 57 per cent of university students are women, 42 per cent of doctors, 27 per cent of magistrates, and so on.

What's was extraordinary though is that the third booklet is called "Women of Tunisia". Inside, it highlights moments in Tunisia's history that has seen law or social changes in favour of women.

It has definitely worked as a policy. Tunisia is a Muslim, African country with an authoritarian style of government and yet women do appear to have an equal status and are extremely confident. What's more, many of the younger women speak Arabic, French and English where their male counterparts muster a few words of English.

The only assumption I can draw from all this is that the President's wife is not a woman to cross.


More of Kieren's inane ramblings can be found at www.kierenmccarthy.co.uk.

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