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article imageSaudi women asked to boycott lingerie shops employing male staff

By Chris Dade     Feb 13, 2010 in Lifestyle
Women in Saudi Arabia are being asked to join a two-week boycott of lingerie shops in the Middle Eastern kingdom that employ male staff to serve female customers.
As part of a campaign which Arab News confirms began in February 2009, although AFP says that its organizer Reem Asaad first started pressuring Saudi officials to allow women to work as lingerie shop assistants in 2008, a request has been made for members of the female population in the largest country in the Middle East to join a two-week boycott of such shops.
With public protests not allowed in Saudi Arabia Ms Asaad, an economics professor at a college in the country's second largest city Jeddah, has had to rely on Facebook to spread the word about the boycott that was due to begin on Saturday.
Ms Asaad's campaign has also received publicity via the Saudiwoman's Weblog.
The Weblog is maintained by mother-of-three and English lecturer Eman Al Nafjan.
And she has observed how strange it is that in what is considered to be one of the most conservative countries in the world male staff serve female customers with their underwear, when she has never encountered such a situation during visits to supposedly liberal Europe.
Publicizing the boycott with a statement published in Al-Madinah newspaper Ms Asaad and her colleagues also commented:The contradiction is in the fact that we are supposedly the most conservative nation in the world and yet women here divulge their bra and undie sizes and colors to strange men on a regular basis
In 2005 Saudi Minister of Labor Dr. Al Qusaibi launched an initiative to encourage lingerie shops to employ female sales staff in order to, in the words of Eman Al Nafjan, ensure that "common decency" prevails and women enjoy the "personal comfort" that comes from discussing their lingerie needs with other women and not men.
While some shops do reportedly employ female sales staff it seems to be, somewhat ironically, the stance taken by the Wahhabi-influenced religious establishment - Islam is the official religion in Saudi Arabia and the authorities do not allow those living in the country to practice other religions - that has led to women having to buy their underwear from men.
Those clerics have apparently actively discouraged, or forbidden, the employment of women.
AFP states that the religious establishment actually requires that men and women be completely separated and the muttawa (religious police) employed by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) enforce the separation of the sexes.
The muttawa patrol the streets to prevent other activities considered un-Islamic, for example they might confiscate CDs/DVDs of Western musicians, movies or TV shows.
According to Arab News the CPVPV is happy for women to work in lingerie shops but the shops must be in women-only malls.
However Eman Al Nafjan asserts that the muttawa and those associated with them:strongly believe that malls and shopping areas are tools of the devil. Hence if they could they would even ban women from shopping let alone working there
She suggests that other reasons for the failure of shops to employ female staff include the cost of making premises "muttawa compliant", the availability of male employees from abroad on low pay and the desire of conservatives to oppose Dr. Al Qusaibi in whatever he does.
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