// Saudi Women Boycott Lingerie Shops
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« on: Mar 26, 2009 08:36 PM »



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Saudi Women Boycott Lingerie Shops Until They Start Employing Women
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DONNA ABU-NASR | March 25, 2009 09:22 PM EST | A
A Saudi woman holding a child checks out lingerie at a store in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, March 25, 2009. A group of Saudi woman launched a campaign Tuesday aimed at bringing in female sales personnel at lingerie stores. Only men are allowed to sell underwear in almost all stores in this ultraconservative kingdom, making the experience of shopping for intimate apparel for most women embarrassing. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Before her wedding last year, Huda Batterjee went abroad to buy her bridal lingerie _ she just couldn't bear the humiliation of discussing her most intimate apparel with a man. She had little choice: there are almost no saleswomen in Saudi Arabia. Now a group of Saudi women _ sick of having to deal with male sales staff when buying bras or panties, not to mention frilly negligees or thongs _ have launched a campaign this week to boycott lingerie stores until they employ women.

It's an irony of the kingdom's strict segregation of the sexes. Only men are employed as sales staff to keep women from having to deal with male customers or work around men.

But in lingerie stores, that means men are talking to women about bras or thongs, looking them up and down to determine their cup sizes, even rubbing the underwear to show how stains can be washed out.

The result is mortifying for everyone involved _ shoppers, salesmen, even the male relatives who accompany the women.

"When I buy underwear in Saudi, some salesmen say, 'This is not the right size for you,'" said Batterjee. "You feel almost taken advantage of. Why is he looking at me in this way?"

So for her wedding trousseau, the 26-year-old went to neighboring Dubai to shop. She now lives in Virginia with her husband.

Heba al-Akki, a businesswoman who supports the boycott, said when she shops for underwear, "I go to a store, pick this, this and that and leave quickly. It's as if I'm buying illegal stuff."

It's not easy on the salesmen either.
Story continues below

At one lingerie boutique in a Riyadh mall Wednesday, salesmen blushed when asked about their jobs. All said they back the campaign to hire female sales staff.

"Even in such open regions as the U.S. and Europe, men do not sell underwear to women," said store manager Husam al-Mutayim, a 27-year-old Egyptian. "I don't let any of my female relatives buy underwear from men. It's just too embarrassing."

Mannequins _ headless in keeping with a ban on realistic depictions of women _ were displayed in the shop window dressed in modest pajamas. Inside, racks held an array of colorful bras, lacy panties and sexy nighties _ along with more day-to-day undergarments.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law, women are required to cover themselves head-to-toe in black robes in public. But in the privacy of their own homes _ and bedrooms _ they can wear whatever they want, and sexy undergarments are popular.

But buying them is another story. Fitting rooms are banned in the kingdom _ the idea of a woman undressing in a public place with men just outside is unthinkable. So a woman is never sure she has chosen the right size until she gets it home.

"I have bras with sizes ranging from 32 to 38 because I can't get to try them on," said Modie Batterjee, Huda's sister and one of the boycott organizers.

Even male relatives get dragged into the embarrassment. Women are allowed to shop without a male relative, but husbands or brothers sometimes insist on coming along _ or the women want them there _ to ensure salesmen stay respectful.

Modie Batterjee recalls how her husband fled a lingerie store because he could not bear to hear her explain to a salesman that she wanted high-waisted underwear to hold in her tummy after their daughter's birth.

The boycott was launched on Tuesday by about 50 women who gathered in the Red Sea port of Jiddah at the Al-Bidaya Breast-feeding Resource and Women's Awareness Center, which is run by Modie Batterjee.

The aim is to push for implementation of a law that has been on the books since 2006 which says only female staff can be employed in women's apparel stores.

The law has never been put into effect, partly due to hard-liners in the religious establishment who oppose employing women in mixed environments like malls, where religious police are always on the lookout to keep men and women from interacting.

Hiring women would also deprive men of jobs in a country where more than 10 percent of men are unemployed.

"We are raising awareness and calling for the implementation of the law," said Reem Asaad, a finance lecturer at Dar al-Hikma Women's College in Jiddah, who supports the boycott.

The campaign calls on women to shop at the country's few women-only lingerie stores. Usually stand-alone boutiques or located in malls that have women-only sections, these shops have no windows to ensure passing men cannot look in _ and giving women the freedom to actually try things on.

How much impact the boycott call will have is unclear. Almost 1,700 people signed an online petition posted by Asaad on the social networking Web site Facebook. A few Saudi papers have written about it, but the campaign depends mostly on word of mouth.

Not all women support the idea. At the Riyadh lingerie shop on Wednesday, one woman _ only her eyes visible through the black veil covering her face _ said she is suspicious of women-only lingerie shops.

"Bad things happen there," she said.

What might that be?

Women can sneak a picture of you changing with their mobile phones, she replied and refused to give her name.
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« Reply #1 on: Mar 26, 2009 08:58 PM »

But buying them is another story. Fitting rooms are banned in the kingdom _ the idea of a woman undressing in a public place with men just outside is unthinkable. So a woman is never sure she has chosen the right size until she gets it home.

Not all women support the idea. At the Riyadh lingerie shop on Wednesday, one woman _ only her eyes visible through the black veil covering her face _ said she is suspicious of women-only lingerie shops.

"Bad things happen there," she said.

What might that be?

Women can sneak a picture of you changing with their mobile phones, she replied and refused to give her name.

Thank you for posting this sister blackrose - I didn't want to be the one posting this - seriously, the thing I don't get about this article is about the fitting rooms.  We have door locks on our fitting room at the store, and it's a real room - not like a washrooms stall where the bottom or top of the door is shorter - and the mirror is inside the fitting room - why should it be an issue if there is a complete separation?

What I have found offensive, however, was when I was in South Asia, the male vendors in the stores selling blouses and petticoats knew exactly what size each customer needed just by looking at them - and the scary thing was that they were right! It's one thing to be current with the styles of fashion - but it's completely another to know the exact measurements without taking any measurements... Shocked

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« Reply #2 on: Mar 27, 2009 03:56 AM »

I have to tell you those men in other countries (no offense ) are pretty weird. I wouldnt feel comfortable either in a fitting room knowing they are just outside. I know many woman had this problem in Pakistan before because we would always have to bring the lingerie I from the USA whenever someone was getting married and all my aunts always want us to bring their undergarments from here. I think now there are more stores opened for this stuff and more women are working in them though

Anyway for some reason this reminded me of how the guy who sells churiya (bangles) knew what size mine was and would grab the hand to put it on me Shocked I remember not liking that and then those men who sell payal (ankle bracelets) think they have the right to put it on you
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« Reply #3 on: Sep 12, 2011 10:13 PM »

Men Selling Panties May Disappear as Saudi Lingerie Stores Can Hire Women

By Donna Abu-Nasr - Sep 11, 2011 10:00 PM GMT+0200

When Saudi student Sarah Abdul- Mohsen asked the salesman for a nude, 32C padded bra, she didn’t expect an argument about her cup size. After all, Abdul-Mohsen was wearing the mandatory black cloak and veil that disguise her shape, in a kingdom where custom forbids men from looking intimately at women.
“He told me, ‘No, you’re not a C,’” Abdul-Mohsen, who was buying the bra for a cousin, said in an interview at a Ramadan meal for women in Riyadh. “I felt disgusted. It felt very degrading.”

Abdul-Mohsen, like many women in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, is hoping that decades of embarrassing exchanges with salesmen about thongs, bras, frilly negligees and panties will soon come to an end. She may get her wish as stores begin implementing a July Labor Ministry directive to push male salesmen aside and hire women after a failed effort in 2006. Managers representing three boutiques said last week their stores will soon be staffed by women, though the transition won’t be easy. Male guards may be stationed outside to keep men shoppers away, while storeowners are considering posting signs saying the establishments are for “Families Only” and hanging heavy curtains to shield store windows so that men won’t look in and see women working.

“It’s a good thing to happen, but it requires planning,” Ghaith Azzam, brand manager for La Vie En Rose, owned by Fawaz Alhokair Group, said in a telephone interview in Riyadh. He said another shop, La Senza, also owned by Alhokair, is making the switch too.

No Mall Job

Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Men and women are strictly segregated in public, including at schools, restaurants and even at lines at fast-food takeouts. That keeps women out of sales jobs in malls and stores -- unless the store caters exclusively to a female clientele.
King Abdullah, who has promised to improve the status of women, opened the first co-educational university in 2009. He appointed the kingdom’s first female deputy minister, Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, the same year and has said he will provide more access to jobs for women. Women are still not allowed to drive, though.
The changeover at lingerie stores is part of an order by Labor Minister Adel Faqih setting a deadline for all-female staffs by the end of the year. The minister’s decision followed a royal decree by King Abdullah in June, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, requiring that only women work in “shops selling women’s necessities.”


Non-Working Women


Saudi women have the lowest employment rate in the six- nation Gulf Cooperation Council, estimated at 12 percent in 2008, Hatem Samman, director and lead economist of the Booz & Company Ideation Center, said in an interview from Dubai. The employment rate for women was 25 percent in Qatar and 28 percent in the U.A.E., he said. The U.S. rate for women 20 years and over was about 55 percent in August.
The minister’s directive also includes shops that sell cosmetics and perfume, which have been given a year to replace their staff. Until then, women will continue buying make-up from men who smear lipstick or eye shadow on hairy wrists or rub cream on the back of their hands as they promote new products.
Saudi women have been pushing for women vendors in lingerie stores for years. In 2008, Reem Asaad, a financial adviser at a bank in Jeddah, spearheaded a campaign that has included postings on Facebook, letters to international lingerie stores that operate in the kingdom and workshops to train Saudi women to work as vendors. After Faqih’s new directive, Asaad says she feels women’s efforts have paid off.

Bearing Fruit

“The publicity from the campaign bore fruit,” she said in a telephone interview from Jeddah. “The government has woken up.”
A similar directive in 2006 was never implemented. It was opposed by religious hardliners who are against women working in a mixed-gender environment.
Brand manager Azzam said the female staff will be given general as well as brand-specific training. The switch at La Vie En Rose, which has 30 stores in the kingdom, and La Senza, which has 45, should happen by end of September, he said
Rabih Masarani, site manager for Bodique boutique, said one of the brand’s 11 stores converted on Sept. 5 at a mall in the western seaport city of Jeddah. Azzam and Masarani said the male workers will be provided jobs in other establishments owned by their companies.


Lacy Thongs


Nawwaf al-Harbi, 26, has yet to be told whether he will need to change careers. He was hired in July by a new store after selling makeup for 10 years. Standing in front of a display of lacy thongs, some decorated with sparkling hearts, al-Harbi said he doesn’t think the government’s effort will succeed.
“When I was selling makeup, women would always tell me they hate buying from female staff because they felt they were being judged,” said al-Harbi.
Al-Harbi said he took a two-day course on selling panties, the only lingerie items carried by the store, and didn’t feel embarrassment during the training. He said his sales technique depends on the kind of shopper who walks through the door.
“If she looks conservative, I leave her alone,” said al- Harbi. “If she looks curious, I approach her and show her the rest of the collection.”
University student Shadi al-Salem, 22, said in an Aug. 6 interview in Riyadh he supports the new law because it “bothers me that salesmen ask intimate questions, like bra sizes.”

Hello Sugar


To avoid such exchanges, some women take along a male relative. At a Riyadh store recently, a man with a salt-and- pepper beard stood in front of an underwear collection called “Hello Sugar” as two women, totally covered in black, pointed to the items they liked. Picking a hanger with a white bra decorated with a pattern of red roses, the man asked the vendor if he had it in large.
Kholoud al-Fahd, 33, chose another solution. She shops in Bahrain, a short distance from her home in Dammam in the Eastern Province after a salesman three years ago picked an orange bra and told her it would suit her.
“I cursed him and left the store,” said al-Fahd, 33, who helps run the family’s interior decorating business.
Another reason she shops in Bahrain is that fitting rooms are banned in Saudi stores, which means women end up buying bras that don’t really fit.
“This is a country that covers you up and then sends people to strip you down,” she said.

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« Reply #4 on: Sep 12, 2011 11:17 PM »

salam



How utterly bizarre, why wouldn't women buy from shops run by women?

I'd turn around and walk right back out of a female clothing shop run by men! I ask female sales assistants their opinions on clothes I'm considering buying (not underwear), I wouldn't to men! Actually that's a lie, I once asked a man (sales assistant) if he had a pair of shoes in my size (he did Grin)



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« Reply #5 on: Sep 13, 2011 01:26 AM »

wsalam,

it's so ironic given how strict saudi is/??! the same exact thing in syria, not a single shopkeeper was a woman!! u feel very nonplussed when the skirts sales guy looks you up and down and is like "oh no honey, ur a size medium"  Cheesy uhhhhh thanx
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« Reply #6 on: Sep 13, 2011 03:30 PM »

Second time I went Hujj I left my wife outside when I went in to buy some. I was speaking to the guy to get the price down and had to go outside to ask her if the price was right. I felt really uncomfortable, because I had a feeling he was looking at her.

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