28,000 Saudi women set to take lingerie by storm

More than 28,000 Saudi women have come forward to take up jobs as sales clerks in lingerie and accessory shops following a government push to force stores to hire female staff, it was reported Sunday.

A senior official at the Ministry of Labour told Arabic daily Al-Eqtisadiah the women would replace male salesmen at 7,353 outlets across the Gulf kingdom, as the government moves to increase retail roles for women.

“In the past, it was very difficult for Saudi women to get job opportunities at these shops dominated by foreigners,” said Fahd Al-Tukhaifi, assistant undersecretary for development.

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Riyadh has seen the highest number of applications from Saudi women keen to secure sales roles, he added, with more than 5,600 putting their names forward for a position.

Al-Tukhaifi said stores selling make-up, women’s clothing, abayas and accessories should be careful to ensure any female recruits would not come into contact with male employees.

“If any employer wants to hire Saudi saleswomen at an abaya shop, then there should not be any salesmen working together with them at the shop,” he told the business daily.

Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Men and women are strictly segregated in public, a rule that has shuts women out of sales jobs in malls and stores – unless the store caters exclusively to a female clientele.

The Gulf kingdom said in November it had hired hundreds of inspectors to force stores to comply with a ruling that said only women could work as clerks in lingerie and other stores. The government’s decision to enforce the law goes into effect this Thursday.

In October, it issued a circular to stores selling women’s fashion and lingerie warning they would be placed on a visa blacklist if they failed to phase out their male staff.

Retailers have said the new regulations will increase their overheads in an already difficult economic climate. Not only must shops bear the cost of training new staff, but must also employ a male security guard for at least SR3,500 (£598) a month to keep men from entering the shop.

Consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) warned new rules aimed at forcing private sector firms to increase their quota of Saudi employees and reduce their foreign workers could leave the retail sector short of staff.

Retail brands must funnel investment into customer service training for employees as new quotas take effect or risk a shortfall in qualified Saudi workers to staff stores, JLL warned.

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