Saudi lingerie shops get new warning over male staff

Ministry of Labour says block on foreign visas among penalties for non compliance
Saudi lingerie shops get new warning over male staff
Shops selling women’s fashion and lingerie in Saudi Arabia have been issued a new warning to stop employing male staff or face being put on a foreign visas blacklist
By Andy Sambidge
Fri 14 Oct 2011 01:27 PM

Shops selling women’s fashion and lingerie in Saudi Arabia have been issued a new warning to stop employing male staff or face being put on a foreign visas blacklist.

Retailers focused on female customers who still have male shop assistants in January will not be able to recruit manpower from abroad, the Ministry of labour said in comments published by Arab News on Friday.

In 2005 the ministry ordered lingerie shops to start replacing foreign male sales clerks with women but only the Nayomi lingerie chain and Centrepoint have successfully hired women clerks, the paper said.

“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,” ministry spokesman Hattab bin Saleh Al-Anzi was quoted as saying.

Al-Anzi added that further sanctions will be considered if shops that sell make-up, women’s clothing, abayas and accessories haven't made the staffing switch by July 2012.

Reem Asaad, a member of the Saudi Economic Society which 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.

Fatima Qaroob, founder of the “Enough Embarrassment” campaign that calls for saleswomen to be employed in lingerie shops, told the paper that shop owners only need two months to train women and guide them through the job.

Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Men and women are strictly segregated in public, including at schools, restaurants and even at lines at fast-food takeouts.

That keeps women out of sales jobs in malls and stores - unless the store caters exclusively to a female clientele.

King Abdullah, who has promised to improve the status of women, opened the first co-educational university in 2009. He appointed the kingdom’s first female deputy minister, Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, the same year and has said he will provide more access to jobs for women. Women are still not allowed to drive, though.

The changeover at lingerie stores is part of an order by Labour Minister Adel Faqih setting a deadline for all-female staffs by the end of the year.

The minister’s decision followed a royal decree by King Abdullah in June, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, requiring that only women work in “shops selling women’s necessities.”

Saudi women have the lowest employment rate in the six- nation Gulf Cooperation Council, estimated at 12 percent in 2008.

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