Saudi Arabia has warned its thousands of lingerie shops they could be shut if they do not comply with a government decision to replace their salesmen with female staff as part of an ongoing drive to find jobs for Saudis.
Labour minister Adel Faqih said women’s cosmetic shops had been given a six-month deadline until January 4 to get rid of all their salesmen and employ Saudi women. Lingerie shops involved in the sale of women’s underwear have been given one year until June 4 2012, he told local newspapers.
“Shops violating these rules will be severely punished….we are coordinating with the ministry of trade and the municipalities on penalties, which will include closure of shops not abiding by these rules,” he said.
“I believe this punishment is severe enough to deter shop owners and ensure they will not try to circumvent the decision.”
Faqih said all lingerie and cosmetic shops in the largest Arab economy must employ only Saudi women, who do not require any work permit from the labour ministry or any other government department.
“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 recently in local newspapers showed Saudi women employed by lingerie and cosmetic shops must be dressed decently. Shops are also required to hire guards or install security systems inside.
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.
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 at the end of 2010 but the level among women was far higher, standing at 26.6 per cent.