Six months after Saudi women were granted the right to work at lingerie stores, Saturday saw them achieve another first when they began work as saleswomen in cosmetic shops.
By implementing this decision, the Saudi ministry of labor hopes to open new employment opportunities for women.
Last year, Saudi King Abdullah had issued a resolution concerning women’s employment in stores ordered the withdrawal of all male employees from store premises within six months.
Hundreds of the ministry’s inspectors placed commercial stores under intensive surveillance to assess their situation and their commitment to the King’s directive.
While larger stores were able to implement the directives, smaller stores chose to remove the cosmetic sections from their premises.
The development assistant deputy minister of the ministry of labor, Fahd al-Takhifi, said “We sent clear instructions to the ministry of labor and business men to clarify the requirements needed for the future. We will not allow any man to sell lingerie or cosmetic products to women anymore,” he added.
Takhifi said it would take a few months to know how many women had benefitted from this resolution. “It is impossible to compel an employer to hire a definite number of female employees. Some stores will be working part-time and others will close their doors. But only women should work in these shops,” he said.
He said the labor offices will start their inspection tours on Sunday. “The conditions of implementation are strict; the number of women working in a section of a store including more than one department should not be less than three. The department where women work should be independent from other departments. It is wrong to just replace men with women employees, women’s departments should also be isolated,” he said.
Commitment and closure
Large perfume and cosmetics stores have committed to the directives without committing to the ministries conditions.
The manager of Bakshan Perfume Company in Al Waha Mall in Dammam, Jalal Mahdi Bashir, said they were working to implement the ruling, adding that they had “started hiring Saudi women. We hired one this morning and will be recruiting another one tomorrow in accordance to the new system.”
Small shops on the other hand have had to close their cosmetics and make-up departments because they were not able to meet the new resolution’s provisions. These shops’ income does not allow them to hire more staff.
The owner of Nahr Al Fayrouzi perfume shop in Dammam, Muhammad Ali, said: “We decided to close our cosmetic section because we cannot afford hiring women in this section; work is already slow and low in revenue.”
In the same context, owner of a small perfumery in Riyadh Hussein al-Shuweia said that he couldn’t hire Saudi women in the cosmetic section because he has a small shop that merely generates income. Thus, he preferred to close the cosmetic section and keep the perfume section. “With all due respect to the new resolution, I couldn’t commit to it. Many of my colleagues who own small shops did the same which will pave the way for megastores to monopolize the market.”
The ministry of labor has set strict rules and conditions to guarantee the success of this venture, especially in light of the differences in the concept of multi-sections stores and the appropriate mechanism to change the stores’ conditions.
Last Saturday, the ministry issued a circular for all offices and businesses in which it gave clear guidelines on how to implement the resolution. For example, it is prohibited to hire men in lingerie and cosmetic shops and all employees should be Saudi women. The store owner should only allow access for families or women provided that women accessories sections are equipped with shutters to segregate men.
A female employee should wear decent clothes in her work place.
Multi-sectional stores (that sell both cosmetics and women’s lingerie) can either employ 100 percent Saudi female staff or remove the products targeted by the ministerial resolution on “lingerie and cosmetics stores”, unless the store owner is willing to hire Saudi female employees.
Saudis are starting to accept this new resolution more than they did when the resolution on women selling lingerie was issued. A female vendor is no longer a strange phenomenon in Saudi society but the resolution needs some time to be fully accepted.