Saudi Arabia on Tuesday began enforcing a royal decision to replace salesmen at its lingerie shops with local women as part of an ongoing campaign to find jobs for its citizens and yield to demands by embarrassed female customers.
Announcing the decision, Saudi labour minister Adel Faqih also warned all businesses involved in the sale of female underwear and cosmetics against allowing men into their shops or employing men along with Saudi women.
The minister said the decision, endorsed by King Abdullah, applies to all lingerie and cosmetic shops in the conservative Moslem Gulf Kingdom and stressed that such shops must ensure their interiors will be invisible from outside.
“All lingerie and cosmetic shops in Saudi Arabia must employ only Saudi women, who do not require any work permit from the labour ministry or any other government department,” Faqih told Saudi reporters.
“These shops are not allowed to employ men along with women in one shop as gender-mixing is not permitted….shops with many sections are excluded provided men and women work in separate sections without mingling.”
Details of the decision published in local newspapers showed Saudi women hired by lingerie and cosmetic shops must be dressed decently. Shops are also required to hire guards or install security systems inside.
“Lingerie shops must adapt to the requirements of this decision within a period of six months while cosmetic businesses have 12 months to adjust.”
The decision, which has been approved by the Saudi cabinet, followed an intensive campaign by local women early this year demanding the replacement of salesmen with women at all lingerie shops in the Kingdom, where nearly eight million expatriates live along with around 19 million Saudis.
The campaign, which was launched in the local media and Facebook, was dubbed “enough embarrassment” and was supported by many Moslem scholars, intellects and other prominent male personalities.
In press comments, the campaign leader Fatima Qaroob said the drive had received strong support from many men on the grounds their wives or female relatives face an embarrassing situation when they shop for clothes.
“We have received massive support from both women and men because it has become unbearable and the situation has become shameful…...we hear shameful and embarrassing stories almost every day about our women when they go shopping for underwear…these stories make you either cry or laugh,” she said in a statement carried by Saudi newspapers.
Saudi Arabia is suffering from relatively high unemployment rate because of a rapid growth in its indigenous population and low economic growth in some years. Another factor is the reluctance of the private sector to hire Saudis as it prefers cheaper and more skilled foreign labour.
Official data showed the joblessness rate stood at 10.5 per cent in 2010 but the rate among women was far higher, standing at 26.6 per cent.