In Saudi Arabia, women have been traditionally excluded from jobs that require interaction with males, which means that all retail stores — even those that sell women’s products, like lingerie and makeup — are entirely staffed by men. Considering how plenty of American females feel vaguely awkward purchasing bras from a male salesman at, say, the Gap, imagine how mortifying the experience must be for Saudi women. The Times reports:
One of the oddest sights in Saudi Arabia is that of fully veiled women, hidden from others by their enveloping garments, going into the Saudi equivalent of Victoria’s Secret stores in the many upscale malls and being greeted and assisted exclusively by male sales clerks, most of whom are from South Asia. This absurd situation so embarrassed many women that they waited until they were out of the country to buy their underwear and nightgowns.
But now, King Abdullah’s Saudi Ministry of Labor is enforcing a royal decree ordering sales personnel in shops that sell women’s products to be exclusively female. This is viewed as a major breakthrough for women seeking to enter the Saudi workforce; according to the Times, over 28,000 women have applied for these retail jobs so far. Although the decree was issued last summer, most shop owners didn’t obey it, protesting that women weren’t trained for the jobs (oh, change). Meanwhile, social conservatives argued that store windows would have to be covered so that male passersby wouldn’t see the women working inside. However, the Ministry of Labor has now ordered all stores subject to the decree to replace their male salespeople with female ones by June. This will be tough, considering women still aren’t allowed to drive and public transportation is basically nonexistent, but — baby steps.