Hundreds of inspectors are to be employed across Saudi Arabia
from January as the Gulf kingdom moves to push male lingerie salesmen aside and
force stores to hire female clerks.
A Labour Ministry directive unveiled in July ruled that only
women could be employed as sales clerks in lingerie stores, a second stab at
enforcing a ruling originally rolled out in 2006.
Some 60 inspectors will be employed in Riyadh alone to
ensure boutiques are abiding by new employment guidelines, said assistant
undersecretary for labour ministry Dr Fahad Al-Tekhaif.
“Modesty is one of the ground rules in Saudi. [Female staff
will be] required [to wear] a hijab and a uniform, to be decided by the shop
owner,” he added.
Street shops as well as those in shopping malls would be
subject to the new rules, he said, with all lingerie outlets compelled to have
blinds or curtains to stop passers-by being able to look in.
Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions interpreted from the
Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Men and women are strictly segregated in
public, a rule that has shuts women out of sales jobs in malls and stores -
unless the store caters exclusively to a female clientele.
The government last month issued a circular to stores
selling women’s fashion and lingerie warning they would be placed on a visa
blacklist if they failed to phase out their male staff.
Further sanctions will be considered if shops that sell
make-up, women’s clothing, abayas and accessories have not made the staffing
switch by July 2012.
“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.
Retailers have said the new regulations will increase their
overheads in an already difficult economic climate. Not only must shops bear the cost of training new
staff, but must also employ a male security guard for at least SR3,500 ($930) a
month to keep men from entering the shop.
Official data puts the employment rate of Saudi women among
the lowest in the six- nation Gulf Cooperation Council, estimated at 12 percent
Nahed Taher, the founder of Gulf One Investment Bank, said
last month that the high rate of unemployment among Saudi women was the result
of a lack of enthusiasm for the workplace.
“Women need to work harder,” Taher told Bloomberg News. “I
have a very open-minded family that respects men and women as equal.”
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