Earlier this week, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah ordered officials to set measures that only allow Saudi women to work at lingerie shops within a month. The step was welcomed by officials and businesswomen.
Many years have passed since the Labor Ministry requested lingerie shops to replace male salesmen with women, but there has been no response from officials. After a large number of campaigns and discussions, the ministry issued the decision in 2005, but it was never implemented. “We immediately started hiring female staff during the year 2005. Initially, it seemed to be a good step. However, the number of customers decreased considerably, because only women were allowed to enter our shops,” said Sarah Bin Sahal, area retail manager for the Nayomi lingerie chain, which still operates more than six “women-only” shops. Later on, they established five more stores that received only families. “Only women or couples are allowed in. The number of customers increased, as women felt free to deal with women sale clerks without any embarrassment,” she said.
In 2005, the ministry asked lingerie shops to begin moving toward women-only staff, giving them a two-year deadline that has lapsed. Bin Sahal added: “Four years later, only a few shops attempted to adhere to the ministry’s noncompulsory order, as shop owners are more likely to hire men in order to increase the number of customers. We now need a quick movement and accurate deadline. We also request cooperation from businessmen and shop owners.”
Reem Asaad, economic writer and member of the Saudi Economic Association, launched a campaign to boycott lingerie stores managed by male staff. She spoke to Arab News about the importance of implementing this decision with a concrete deadline. “Issuing the decision is an important step, but we need to see the implementation. Since 2005 we have heard the decision, but nothing has happened,” she said. Reem added, “I think it is not enough to hire saleswomen in lingerie stores. Management, accounting, and customer service are other fields in which women should be equal to men.” According to Reem, the decision called for hiring women in stores including those selling perfumes, makeup, clothes, and children-care products.
Fatima Qaroub, a Saudi woman who started a campaign titled “Enough With Embarrassment,” confirmed that many Saudi women joined the campaign after they had experienced an embarrassing situation with salesmen in lingerie stores. “A large number of supporters joined the campaign and we had more than 5,500 members on our Facebook page,” she said. Qaroub called for the necessity of putting a deadline for the implementation of the decision, or it will die again. “Women in the Kingdom have suffered enough embarrassment when they want to buy lingerie. They have to respond to males about questions regarding the size, description and colors of the lingerie they are looking for,” said Qaroub. Qaroub’s campaign has reached official bodies, and all of them have been supportive since the year 2005. “We visited religious authorities, municipality, and the ministry to call for our right. Many positive results are apparent everyday, and we are looking to expand women participation’s in many other fields,” she added.