Jeddah: From Thursday, only female staff will
be able to sell women`s lingerie in Saudi Arabia, ending
decades of awkwardness in the ultra-conservative Muslim
kingdom where women are expected to don black cloaks at all
times out of the home.
"I and many other women like me were always embarrassed to
walk into lingerie shops because men were selling the goods,"
said Saudi shopper Samar Mohammed.
She said that in the past she often bought the wrong
underwear "because I was sensitive about explaining what I
wanted to a man."
A royal decree issued by King Abdullah in June last year
over the objections of top clerics gave lingerie shop owners
six months to get rid of their male employees and staff their
stores with women only.
The ban on male staff is to be extended to cosmetics shops
"This is an order from the king," Labour Minister Adel
"All preparations are under way to fully implement this
decision," he said, adding that more than 7,300 retail outlets
would be affected by the ban on male staff, creating job
opportunities for more than 40,000 Saudi women.
The labour ministry`s original proposal to allow women to
work in lingerie stores sparked a storm of protest from the
kingdom`s top clerics three years ago. They issued a fatwa, or
religious decree, barring women from any such work.
Women, who for years had complained about being forced to
buy their underwear from men, hit back with a campaign on
Facebook called "Enough Embarrassment."
"The embarrassment has ended," the activists` page proudly
proclaimed this week.
The campaign`s founder, Fatima Garoub, welcomed the
implementation of the new law and said that despite initial
hesitations among retailers, "they are now responding
positively, especially since they have no choice."
Another Saudi activist, Reem Asaad, who launched a
campaign to boycott lingerie shops that employ male sales
staff, said her efforts were aimed at "sending a message to
"This is about social awareness... The king had a strategy
to support women in the workforce... Our demands have been
realised," Asaad said.
The strict segregation of the sexes outside the home that
is enforced in Saudi Arabia by the kingdom`s powerful
religious police means that women are effectively barred from