Saudi women finally allowed to join work force… to sell lingerie

Saudi woman arranging a lingirie rack

Wow, there are so many layers to this story. Saudi women, long denied the ability to work, are finally allowed into the public sector- but only to sell garments, cosmetics, and yes – skimpy women’s lingerie. From the New York Times:

The Ministry of Labor is enforcing a royal decree issued last summer ordering that sales personnel in shops selling garments and other goods, like cosmetics, that are only for women must be female. More than 28,000 women applied for the jobs, the ministry said. [Emphasis mine.]

Anywhere else in the world, it would not be news that sales assistants in shops selling panties and bras were female. In Saudi Arabia, where women have always been excluded from the public work force, it is a critical breakthrough. This is not just about intimate garments; this is a milestone on the arduous path to employment equality for women in a country where they are systematically excluded from retail activity.

The Times does a good job of expressing the profound symbolism of veiled women making their debut into the public work force by selling barely-there undergarments without downplaying the significance of this milestone for Saudi women. Check out the rest of the article for more.

H/t Amy Klein, Permanent Wave

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Brüno

    The NYT is wrong. It is NOT a milestone for women. It is a measure that was done in the context of their set of values. I doubt it will usher a change of any kind for women. Basically men and I am sure, many women there think the west is bonkers when it comes to gender relations.

    It would be like expecting that in the future our set of values changes in a way to resemble theirs, infidel women deserves to be stoned, women cant work etc. . It is unrealistic. It is equally unrealistic to expect they will change theirs. In Europe women had a different standing already in ancient times. Even the Romans noticed that among the northern tribe of Europe there was a great deal of equality between the genders. So do not expect time to bring change, unless a demografic shift is going on.

  • Chris

    Women in Saudi Arabia have long been able to work. Not sure why the article, and this post, imply differently?