On a daily basis, one of my first order of things to do is check my emails as well as visit my social media pages to get caught up with as much news as possible; and of course drop a few inspirational words of wisdom. I was catching up on Facebook when I noticed a media colleague of mine Wana Udobang, a British-Nigerian journalist and radio personality, update her status online. I responded with a comment on how long it had been since I read her writings and that she had been missing in action for a while. She responded saying she had in fact been writing and provided a link to a recent article she authored only four days ago. The article addressed the discriminatory treatment of single women in Nigeria narrating her own personal experience.
What was striking to me was that her story discussed how she was denied access to eat at a hotel restaurant in Abuja, Nigeria, based solely on her gender. The incident took place a few months ago this year, 2011. The rationale behind the denial was that the hotel was trying to allegedly deal with the issue of prostitution in Abuja. Accordingly, it had a mandated internal policy that women must be accompanied by men to be served at its restaurant. The article was silent on the name of the restaurant. I was at once intrigued and amused. I thought to myself this had to be an archaic restaurant of some sorts. Nevertheless, I shared the link on my facebook wall page.
What followed was one of my contributors for Ladybrille Magazine confirming that the story was indeed true. Elfonnie Inokon, an Engineer and Writer, confirmed that in 2001 (10years ago), she visited the Starwood Sheraton Hotel Abuja Restaurant with her sister and had the same experience happen to her! Udobang followed up with a confirmation that she was indeed denied access to eat at the same Sheraton Abuja hotel.
Needless to say, I was angered at this point after I read the experiences of both of these dynamic, highly intelligent women.
With a name, I knew what I was going to do. In the 21st century, in a country that has relations with the USA, and a city that houses an American hotel chain, such blatant discriminatory policy against women is not to be tolerated. That it has been ongoing for ten (10) years is a shock!
How humiliating and degrading that despite the accomplishments by women worldwide, when we travel to a so called democratic country which houses a democratically owned American hotel chain restaurant we women cannot be served unless we have a man by our side?
I quickly thought about what strategy to use. I was not in Abuja and I frankly would be wasting my time if I was in Abuja to talk to “management” or anyone for that matter to stop this nonsense and rubbish. BUT, I was in the USA and I knew for a fact, since I patronize Starwood Sheraton owned hotels, that Starwood was headquartered in the USA and could easily handle this. So, I got on the phone and went to work. I spent over an hour, got phone calls returned, talked to the folks I needed to talk to and informed them of this issue. They agreed this was wrong and against their organizational policies; and promised to immediately begin investigations into Starwood Sheraton Hotel Restaurant Abuja.
Folks, I will get into a little bit of the legalese soon. But here is the gist of why this is so exasperating for me.
Who is Affected?
- American women (White, Black, African, Indian, Asian, Mexican etc.), Nigerian women and women in general. By this stupid policy, our own First Lady Michelle Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cannot eat at the Starwood Sheraton Hotel if they are among a group of women or fly solo. They have to have men with them. American citizens in an American owned Hotel chain get to be discriminated against???
- What Professional Level Does this Affect? Engineers, lawyers, doctors, business moguls, journalists, government workers, working class etc. Ladies, if you work hard for your money, show up at the Starwood Sheraton Hotel in Abuja for business or vacation, YOU CANNOT BUY YOUR OWN FOOD IN THE HOTEL’S RESTAURANT UNLESS YOU ARE ACCOMPANIED BY A MAN?! Like are we living in the stone age?
The Stupidity of Such “Internal Policy?”
• Does a company have a right to implement policies for its daily operations and business? Yes it does. The policies, however, cannot be in contravention of both the Federal and State constitutional laws. Nothing in Nigeria’s statutes that I have read, at least the Federal laws, grants Starwood Sheraton Hotel, Starwood Sheraton Hotel Abuja or its other subsidiaries, franchisees etc. the power to implement what is nothing short of blatant gender discrimination and downright stupid policy.
• Further, assuming indeed the goal was to curb prostitution, how exactly are they curbing prostitution? The women who walk in with men might very well be prostitutes but so long as they are accompanied with men who might very well be their pimps, they get to eat at the restaurant because they are with a man?!! This has all sorts of wrongs and ridiculousness, I am at a loss for words.
Now a little bit on the legalese.
Franchise vs. Corporate Managed Hotels
What is a Franchise: Let’s say you are Tyra Banks and own America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). Let’s say you have been very successful and now others want to emulate your success around the world. They come to you. What do you do? As a Franchisor you can grant permission for these individuals or groups to market ANTM. You can limit the scope of use to their territories and in many times as in the fast food chains, locations. As a Franchisor, your primary concern includes trademark consistency, maintaining your corporate image and values among others. To that end, in our ANTM scenario, ANTM would or should provide training to its franchisees for brand consistency, reputation and delivery in service; and to avoid a lawsuit/liability.
Many Starwood Sheraton hotels around the world are franchised to independently owned operators and companies. The Starwood Sheraton Hotel Abuja, it appears from speaking with the corporate office in the USA, does not have this kind of ownership model. It is instead based on a corporate managed ownership model.
What is a Corporate Managed Hotel
It is not uncommon to see many of the major hotel chains under management contracts, especially on the international front. In this scenario, the actual building is owned by a third party while the corporate hotel handles the daily operations of the hotel managed facility. Corporate has direct control over quality and service standards. It appears, although I am not quite clear, that this is the situation with Starwood Sheraton Hotel Abuja. Either way you look at it, it is unequivocally clear that such discriminatory practices ought to be changed, effective immediately!
Photo description: Starwood Sheraton Hotel Abuja, Nigeria