Middle East: Women's Money Talks

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Photograph for TIME by Matilde Gattoni / Arabian Eye

FAIR TRADE: Only female staff and customers are allowed in this branch of the Dubai Islamic Bank

The women's branches of the Dubai Islamic Bank feel more like spas than financial institutions. Clients at one branch in suburban Dubai lounge on sofas, flicking through magazines, nibbling dates and sipping coffee served from golden pots. Women from the Gulf wearing head-to-toe abayas sit beside Levantine businesswomen and Chinese expats in miniskirts. The tellers, bankers and wealth managers, like their clientele, are all female.

In Saudi Arabia, there have been female-only banks for decades — a reflection partly of Saudi women's wealth, partly of conservative attitudes toward them as precious creatures who need to be protected. But...