That’s right. It took a decree from the king himself to end an ironic consequence of the strict separation of the genders, whereby Saudi women actually had to buy lingerie from men because of a ban across the board on female sales clerks.
Not surprisingly, the retailers continue to look for excuses to get around the decree. “Lingerie shops told to honor deadline for hiring women,” by Rima al-Mukhtar for Arab News, October 13 (thanks to Kenneth):
JEDDAH: Shops selling women’s fashion and lingerie that continue to employ male staff will be prevented from obtaining services offered by the Ministry of Labor if they do not start hiring women immediately.
In 2005 the Ministry of Labor ordered lingerie shops to start replacing foreign male sales clerks with women. It has been more than five years now and only the Nayomi lingerie chain and Centrepoint have successfully hired women clerks in their shops all over the Kingdom.
“If by January these shops are still employing salesmen, they will be barred from all the ministry’s services including, among others, issuance of work visas to recruit manpower from abroad,” said ministry spokesman Hattab bin Saleh Al-Anzi.
Al-Anzi said in July 2011 the ministry gave shops that sell make-up, women’s clothing, abayas and accessories one year to ensure all their staff are women. “This grace period will end in July 2012, after which these shops will face sanctions from the ministry,” he said.
Reem Asaad, a member of the Saudi Economic Society who has been calling for boycotting lingerie shops not employing women, said that there should not be any slackness in the implementation of the ministry’s directives. She added that many women’s shops in Jeddah had complied, but outlets in other cities had not.
Asaad doubted that shopping centers and malls took the ministry’s orders seriously and recalled that a mall recently asked her to help find 450 jobs for men. “How can we be serious in employing women if such shops are still looking to employ men?” she asked.
The ministry said women’s shops include those selling women’s clothing, whether it was on the street or within shopping centers. It asked the shops to provide rest rooms for employees and asked women staff to be decently covered.
Fatima Qaroob, founder of the “Enough Embarrassment” campaign that calls for saleswomen to be employed in lingerie shops, said the 2005 order was issued by the Labor Ministry, while the one issued in 2011 had royal approval.
An account of exactly how awkward the encounter can be appeared in Time magazine earlier this year.
“Four years after the ministerial decree, I met with lingerie shop owners and asked them the reason why they were not complying and they claimed the ministry did not send an official request demanding them to employ women,” she said. “I believe businessmen are just lazy and they claim that it is difficult to train women.”…