Sometimes there’s “creeping Sharia.” More often than not, though, it’s just plain creepy Sharia, and this case certainly falls in the latter category. The unintended consequence of the complete ban on female sales clerks, issued to uphold Sharia’s segregation of the sexes, actually led to a situation where women had to deal with unrelated men on a rather private matter. The original story for Time, in all its awkward glory, can be found here.
Rules against “mingling” of the sexes at work in the kingdom, whose laws are based on a strict interpretation of Muslim Sharia, mean that most shops have male assistants only.
Until now that included lingerie shops, leading to complaints that assistants who tried to be helpful often tried to guess customers’ bra sizes by staring hard at their abayas, the long all-enveloping gowns worn by Saudi women in public.
… which would have eventually given rise to a Saudi bra brand, “Just Ain’t My Size.”
A group of professional women set up a Facebook campaign, “Enough Embarrassment” two years ago demanding a change to the practice and winning international attention. They pointed out that Labour Ministry guidelines had already demanded a shift to women-only lingerie stores in 2005, without result.
Fatwas by senior clerics against women serving on supermarket tills, a novelty attempted by one chain, did not help, despite campaigners pointing out that there was little difference between a man serving women customers and women serving male customers.
King Abdullah, who has pledged to broaden access to education and jobs for women in Saudi Arabia since coming to the throne in 2005, said from now on some jobs would be reserved for women only — including working in lingeries shops.
“From now, embarrassment will end,” one of the campaigners, Fatima Garub, said. “We thank the king. He felt our problem.”
Reem Asaad, a professor of finance in Jeddah who began the campaign for women assistants in 2008, said the new measures were part of an important drive to improve employment prospects for young Saudis. Many shop assistants are from abroad.
She added she had now officially ended her boycott of lingerie shops. “I have just bought my first bra for four years,” she told The Daily Telegraph.
“And it was a woman who served me.”