The Gulf News reported today that King Abdullah issued a decree permitting Saudi women to work in lingerie shops. The language of the decree apparently stipulates that only Saudi women could sell lingerie.
The King also ruled that Saudi women could work at some industrial jobs.
Women working in lingerie shops became an issue in 2004 when female customers complained they felt uncomfortable talking to strange men about their underwear. The Ministry of Labor attempted to force lingerie shops to hire women, but it lost a battle of wills with passive-aggressive owners who ignored the edict. The Ministry reversed its position about three years ago, and some sheikhs joined in by issuing a fatwa banning women from obtaining such jobs.
It’s all well and good that the retail job market opened a tiny fraction for Saudi women. But lingerie sales work will only create about 6,000 low-wage jobs.
The nagging problem with this development is that it took seven years for the Saudi government to resolve this issue. And while I believe it’s a small victory for Saudi women, I can’t help but feel it’s some sort of consolation prize for being denied the right to drive a car. The Shoura Council has agreed to consider the driving ban if someone suggests it (as if Abdullah Al-Alami hasn’t been asking to be heard for I don’t know how long).
Saudi women have been thrown bone. Creating jobs for Saudi women in lingerie shops is only meaningful if women receive all their rights guaranteed in Islam. I give thanks that women have finally received the opportunity to seek employment in such shops, but I’m not going to delude myself into thinking we achieved some great victory.
However, there is a glimmer of hope. The King also issued a decree to create 39,000 jobs for women in the public education sector. The jobs for women are part of the King’s requirement to develop 66,000 new jobs for trained healthcare professionals and graduate teachers.
Public education jobs for women is indeed good news, but it also is a step towards creating a ghetto for women in the education and health sectors. Surely, not all female graduate and post-graduate degree holders are looking for jobs in the education and health fields.