- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: New royal decree permits only women to work in lingerie shops
- Date: 10th January 2012
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ABDULAZIZ, SON OF SALESWOMAN, SAYING: "I come here to stand with my mother in the shop because they (the government) have asked that selling women's clothes only be done by women."
- Embargoed: 25th January 2012 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABH24D917QWA6WGRTOUS72UQD1
- Story Text: A new royal decree in Saudi Arabia permits only women to work in lingerie shops. Campaigners hope this will end years of embarrassing encounters between women and male shop assistants.
In the conservative Islamic kingdom where gender segregation has been strictly enforced, almost all shops throughout the country have until now been served solely by male shop assistants. Their presence at women's lingerie shops until recent days has for years been seen by many Saudi women as something of an absurdity.
"The decision makes it more comfortable for women to have privacy, and woman can speak to the sales woman and explain their needs better, and at the same time connect with women clients better than men, in order to avoid embarrassment," said one customer in the western Saudi city of Jeddah.
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, enforces a "guardian" system in which all women need the permission of a close male relative to work, travel and even have some kinds of surgery.
Last year King Abdullah said women could vote and run in future municipal council elections and serve in the appointed Shura Council. The move was seen as heralding more change in the future.
Following the Saudi king issued the decree forcing owners of women's clothing stores to employ saleswomen in their shops, many shops in malls and markets have started employing women, much to the chagrin of the country's religious establishment.
Many religious figures in the country says that to enforce the separation of the sexes, women should not be allowed to work in places where men and women congregate. Some maintain that employing women is prohibited by Islamic law.
The presence of male shop assistants in lingerie shops led to uncomfortable and embarrassing encounters where women had to buy underwear from male shop assistants who would guess their size and describe fittings to them.
"I think that this resolution is excellent, and I see that it has become more comfortable for women and their needs, because there were many women who could not deal with men, as well as there were women who could not buy certain brands because there were men selling in these stores. But the situation now is very comfortable for women to enter and deal more with women, more than if there were men there, and I think that the situation is comfortable for me personally. I can go in and find out about new brands and sizes and ask about them more," said one saleswoman.
In 2006 Saudi Arabia passed a law banning men from working in women's clothing and cosmetics stores. However, this law was never put into effect. A renewed push in July to have women replace men in women's stores saw campaigners organise a boycott of lingerie shops in an effort to force a change in the law.
King Abdullah's royal decree now finally is coming into effect. According to Arab News, the deadline for men to be replaced in lingerie shops is Thursday (January 12).
"It is an excellent opportunity. There are many girls who have found jobs and the number of (working) women has become larger, and there are now many shops that are all women," said a woman shop assistant.
While the new law could create tens of thousands of jobs for ordinary Saudi women, it also means male shop assistants will be out of a job.
There is little worry among women, however, many of whom have embraced the change for ending awkward conversations with male staff and giving ordinary women a chance to work.
"In the past it was possible that women would be ashamed to ask for underwear or women's supplies from a salesman. At the same time, this gives an opportunity for girls to have jobs in the workplace," said customer Umm Mohammed.
Thousands of women have already taken the newly available positions in recent days.
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