Starting last Thursday, only women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to staff the Kingdom’s lingerie and women-specific stores, ending decades of awkward moments for Saudi women interested in purchasing undergarments and women’s items.
This so-called “feminization” of Saudi employment is the result of a royal decree issued by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz last June stating that women would replace men as employees in stores that carry women-specific products. The decision is part of an ongoing drive by King Abdullah to find jobs for Saudi women, whose unemployment rate stands at 26.6 percent. It also follows a social media campaign launched by women last year called “Enough Embarrassment.” According to the Ministry of Labor, over 28,000 women have thus far applied for jobs they can’t drive themselves to.
Many of Saudi Arabia’s rigid clerics are opposed to the move that welcomes women into the workforce where they can come into contact with men. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh blasted the new ruling as a violation of sharia law and a crime. The mufti did not address why the change is any worse than what was: women patrons interacting with male employees to discuss the style and size of the undergarments they wished to purchase.
According to Ibrahim Al Mugaiteeb of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights First Society, the march towards realizing equal rights for women in the Kingdom has started and cannot be stopped. Indeed, while Saudi women still have a long way to go, their work towards slowly cracking away at the Kingdom’s harsh restrictions must not be ignored.