Saudi eyes 1.5m lingerie shop jobs

Saudi Arabia aims to create nearly 1.5 million jobs for national women when it starts enforcing a decision to replace all salesmen with females at its lingerie shops next month, according to officials.

The Gulf Kingdom, which is reeling under high unemployment rate despite its massive oil wealth, set July 12 for the gradual enforcement of a decree by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to replace men with women at all lingerie shops.

Officials said shops which do not comply with the decision would be punished but have not yet specified the penalties. They also indicated the July 12 deadline could be extended following complaints by some shops that it was too early.

“When we are past the deadline, then we will see about it,” said Ahmed Al Humeidan, labour ministry undersecretary for labour affairs.

“This is a very important decision…its enforcement is a big asset for the Saudi families as it will provide nearly 1.5 million jobs for Saudi women and this will contribute to reducing the high unemployment rate among women.”

Humeidan urged all women clothes dealers in the Kingdom, the largest Arab economy and the world’s top oil exporter, to prepare their shops to receive Saudi sales women in line with the “Monarch’s sublime directives.”

He said the labour ministry would work with those shops and other private sector establishments to ensure the full implementation of the decision.

“Full implementation of the decision needs much time and effort especially by the private sector which should be prepared for this…some measures could longer but surely once the campaign is launched, there will be a timetable to complete the Saudization of sales jobs at all lingerie shops in the Kingdom.”

In a letter entitled “important and urgent,” the Riyadh chamber of commerce and industry told all lingerie shops and other women clothes businesses last week to be ready to start replacing salesmen with Saudi women within one month.

The letter also asked those shops to provide the chamber with details of all jobs available for Saudi women, work timings and the function of each job.

The chamber said its request is in line with a decision by King Abdullah to “restrict jobs at lingerie shops to Saudi women.”

“You are asked to take immediate procedures within one month to replace all salesmen with Saudi women…this decision affects mainly shops dealing in lingerie items, night dresses, abaya (gowns) and read made women clothes.”

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 conservative Gulf Kingdom.

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.

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