April 29, 2006
Saudi Women Given Right to Sell Underwear
Currently in Saudi Arabia, only men are permitted to conduct retail business and the practice proves to be awkward when the items being sold are primarily female products. Therefore, whether purchasing panties, brassieres, see-through nighties, or lipstick and other cosmetics, women are helped by bearded and moustached male sales assistants. But times have changed and Saudi society is about to make a dramatic leap forward.
It is hailed as a major step forward for women's emancipation in Saudi Arabia: in the coming weeks they will enjoy the right to buy lingerie from female shop assistants.The change will probably be quite welcome since most women are reluctant to discuss their unmentionables with men who are likely total strangers.
This may be a far cry from bra-burning feminism but in Saudi Arabia the notion of buying one's brassiere from a woman is nothing short of revolutionary.
A new decree requiring shop owners to hire female staff to sell undergarments illustrates the cautious liberalisation the kingdom is undergoing - and how far it has yet to travel.
On the other hand, the lingerie shop owners are ambivalent. Some intend to darken their premises to hide the fact that women are working while others complain that business will be stunted since most customers for women's underwear are men. (As an aside, I'm astounded by the fact that Saudi men are buying most of the women's underwear in the Kingdom. There has to be a psychological angle here somewhere.)
King Abdallah is the impetus behind the recent liberalization of Saudi society. He's even hinted at lifting the prohibition on women driving. Naturally, traditionalists believe that the changes go too far and are "not compatible with Islam."