In this study, we seek to study women’s need for privacy in public spaces and how this need influences both women’s behavior and the physical form of public spaces particularly in Arab-Muslim cities, where culture plays a critical role in driving women's behaviour. Women’s privacy in this context is influenced by the culture of gender separation, which is based on local traditions dominant in Arab-Muslim cities. Therefore, this study primarily deals with women’s privacy in the presence of outsider males, who are treated as strangers and do not have a family relationship with the women and are eligible for marriage. The city of Nablus, as being an Arab Muslim city in Palestine, is presented as a case study to provide a perspective on how the cultural needs of women in general, and women's privacy in particular, are accommodated in a local context.
Although several studies concerning public spaces and women’s privacy in Arab-Muslim cities have been conducted, most scholars of these studies do not give a clear picture of the relationship between privacy and its different components. The scholars focus on investigating privacy in relation to behaviour or in relation to physical form of the space without explaining well enough how both people’s behaviour and the physical form of the space are influenced by privacy. In other words, scholars have tended not to explain clearly enough the relationship between privacy and its components.
To analyse the physical space in relation to women's behaviour an environmental approach based on the concept of behavioural setting was used. For this purpose, the behavioural setting was defined as the smallest living entity in a space that has three main components: physical (design), social (use) and cultural (rules).
The outcome of this study is expected to contribute to developing of a better theoretical understanding of the relationship between women’s privacy and the physical form of public spaces. In addition, it will enhance the knowledge about the interaction between urban design and culture in general, and between urban design, democracy and equity among citizens in using their urban environment, in particular. Thus, women’s privacy in this regard does not mean women's isolation from public sphere; on the contrary it is an essential requirement for women to achieve their right in accessing the public sphere. This will help urban planners to design and develop sustainable urban environments which are accessible to both males and females.
The result of this study shows that there is a relationship between women’s privacy and both women’s behavior and physical form of the space. The paper shows that women’s privacy is met through the design, use and rules of space. Therefore, on one side, it is possible to investigate and influence privacy through urban design components. On the other side, it is important to consider all these components in the design and development of built environment.