In 2006, Saudi Arabia passed a law banning men from working in women's clothing and cosmetics stores, but it was never put into effect. The country's religious establishment says that to uphold the separation of the sexes women shouldn't work in places where men and women congregate together. However, this leads to another uncomfortable situation: Women buying underwear from male clerks who guess their size and describe the fit to them. For months Saudi women have been boycotting lingerie shops to in an effort to make them hire women, and now the country's leaders say that they'll begin enforcing the law that bans men from women's stores this week.
In July there was a new push to have women replace male clerks in stores that sell only women's accessories, and thousands of women have already taken the positions. According to the Arab News, Thursday is the deadline to replace male salesmen in the shops. Fahd Al-Tukhaifi, a senior official from the Ministry of Labor, said that more than 28,000 Saudi women have taken up the positions. Though it's been reported that the jobs may be taken by foreign women, Al-Tukhaifi said the royal decree says the women must be Saudi. He said:
This will create an appropriate environment for women to work. On the economic front, it will create more job opportunities for women, and thus would be a boost to the Saudization drive in addition to accelerating the nation's economic progress.
Yet, many still say they move is wrong, because it means more women will be working in areas like shopping malls, even if all of their customers are female. In a recent sermon Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh, the country's most senior cleric, spoke out against the decision, saying, "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." Apparently there's far less potential for wrongdoing when a male clerk chats with a female customer about her bra size and underwear preferences.