RIYADH: Before her wedding last year, Huda Batterjee went abroad to buy her bridal lingerie she just couldn’t bear the humiliation of discussing her most intimate apparel with a man.It turns out that women are allowed to work in Saudi lingerie shops - but no one lets them:
She had little choice: there are almost no saleswomen in Saudi Arabia.
Now a group of Saudi women sick of having to deal with male sales staff when buying bras
or panties, not to mention frilly negligees or thongs have launched a campaign this week to boycott lingerie stores until they employ women. It’s an irony of the kingdom’s strict segregation of the sexes. Only men are employed as sales staff to keep women from having to deal with male customers or work around men.
But in lingerie stores, that means men are talking to women about bras or thongs, looking them up and down to determine their cup sizes, even rubbing the underwear to show how stains can be washed out.
The result is mortifying for everyone involved shoppers, salesmen, even the male relatives who accompany the women.
“When I buy underwear in Saudi, some salesmen say, ‘This is not the right size for you,” said Batterjee. “You feel almost taken advantage of. Why is he looking at me in this way?” So for her wedding trousseau, she went to neighbouring Dubai to shop. She now lives in Virginia with her husband.
Heba al-Akki, a businesswoman who supports the boycott, said when she shops for underwear, “I go to a store, pick this, this and that and leave quickly. It’s as if I’m buying illegal stuff.”
Re'em As’ad is leading a Facebook campaign to boycott lingerie shops that employ men and she is aiming at the whole lingerie business in Saudi Arabia since women are not allowed to work in such shops.That explains everything!
As’ad hopes that her campaign will force storeowners to rethink the option of hiring women; she hopes to breathe life into a never-enforced law that allows women to be employed in lingerie shops. The law has been lying in a drawer somewhere for two years now. As’ad’s campaign started a few months ago with posts on websites and through e-mails asking people to show their objections to employing men to sell women’s lingerie.
Hiring saleswomen is difficult despite the Ministry of Labor’s approval. This is due to conflicting views on the subject between the ministry and the religious establishment. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh recently said, “Women are entrusted to us, we should not involve them in matters far from their nature.”