Women only to work in Saudi Arabia lingerie shops

Saudi women to be served by female staff Saudi women will be served only by female staff in lingerie shops

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A law allowing only women to work in lingerie shops in Saudi Arabia is coming into force.

Campaigners hope this will end decades of awkwardness in the Islamic kingdom where women have always been served by male shop assistants.

The heated issue of the total lack of female shop workers in Saudi Arabia has simmered for years.

Many Saudi women say they have felt particularly uncomfortable buying their lingerie from men.

Female campaigners recently increased the pressure for change through a Facebook campaign and a boycott of lingerie stores.

Now King Abdullah's royal decree finally comes into effect, banning male staff from selling female underwear.

"It's about time, it's been a long struggle and the authorities have finally come to their senses," says Radio Jeddah journalist Samar Fatany.

She says she, and any woman who could afford to, would often shop abroad rather than face the embarrassment of giving her underwear size over the counter to a man.

The campaign has gained extra momentum from the increasing number of young women who want to enter the workplace.

The Saudi women who can work are usually the educated elite who do professional jobs in medicine or government.

The new law could potentially create up to 40,000 jobs for ordinary Saudi women who have hitherto had little or no access to employment.

But it also means that male clerks, most of whom are foreign workers, will be out of a job.

It is not far short of a social revolution being pushed through in the teeth of fierce opposition from the kingdom's top clerics.

They do not want to see an increase in the number of women working outside the home.

The kingdom's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, has warned shop owners that employing women is a "crime and prohibited by Islamic sharia law".

"There is already a growing tension between liberals and the religious conservatives in the country and this issue could provoke opposition from the religious police," says Abeer Mishkhas is a columnist for the Saudi paper Asharq al-Awsat.

The Ministry of Labour will be posting observers in shopping centres to make sure the new shop assistants do not get harassed in their first weeks of work.

The ban on male staff in lingerie departments is due to be extended to cosmetics shops from July.

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