There’s a new job market for women in Saudi Arabia, lingerie sales. The Kingdom recently implemented a new law that bans men from selling female undergarments, effectively giving women a new route to enter the work force. Purchasing such intimate apparel from a male previously made many women uncomfortable.
Despite the fact that legislation has been in place since 2006, the law hasn’t been put into effect due to strong protest from the country’s top clerics. Saudi Arabia adheres to an ultra-conservative form of Islam, known as Wahhabism. Segregation of the sexes is strictly enforced and women are not allowed to mingle with males to with whom they are not related.
Giving their measurements and receiving recommendations from a male stranger made enough women uneasy that they organized a boycott of all lingerie stores that employed men. The boycott, titled “Enough Embarrassment,” was conducted on Facebook since protesting is illegal in the country. It gained so much attention that King Abdullah was forced to issue a royal decree putting the law into full effect. This hasn’t kept the country’s clerics who adamantly oppose the law quiet.
Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh, the country’s senior cleric, recently spoke out against it in a sermon: “'The employment of women in stores that sell female apparel and a woman standing face to face with a man selling to him without modesty or shame can lead to wrongdoing, of which the burden of this will fall on the owners of the stores.”
The newly employed lingerie saleswomen will be without a male family member in a public space. Since women out shopping are accompanied by a male relative, this will lead to inappropriate mixing of the sexes according to the Sheik.
That logic seems contradictory. Before the law, women were forced to deliver intimate details (measurements, styles, etc.) about their bodies to complete strangers; all of whom were men. The Sheik would rather have a woman reveal details of her body to a clerk, than be without a man in a public space or working.
The belief that when unrelated men and women mingle, it will inherently lead to promiscuous behavior (everything from loss of virginity to adultery to prostitution have been stated), has been inherent in all gender politics in Saudi Arabia.
This hasn’t deterred women from applying for the open positions. The BBC reports that nearly 40,000 new jobs putting 40,000 men out of work will be available solely to women. Though many argue that mostly South Asian immigrants will fill them, it is still an exciting development in a country where women still cannot drive.
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