If you are a woman in Saudi Arabia and you need a new bra or a pair of underpants, you have to buy them from a man. Now, the Saudi king says he wants female sales assistants in lingerie stores. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Saudi investment analyst and women’s rights advocate Reem Asaad who lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Asaad has spent the past few years calling attention to the problem of “men-as-lingerie-sales-assistants” in Saudi Arabia.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. This next story will probably mean more to women but, here goes anyway. Imagine that whenever you had to buy new lingerie, the person in the store selling it to you, even the person who checks to see if it fits properly, was a man. Surprisingly, that’s the case in Saudi Arabia, but it may be about to change. The Saudi King says he wants women only sales assistants in lingerie shops by the end of the month. Reem Asaad is a Saudi investment analyst, writer and women’s rights advocate. She’s based in Jeddah. Ms. Asaad, you’ve been very involved in calling attention to the problem of men staffing lingerie shops and I imagine it is a problem for women. What’s your reaction to the King’s announcement?
Reem Asaad: I was delighted because this is something that we’ve been waiting for since 2005. There was a ministerial decree issued by the Ministry of Labor ruling that only women should be staffed in lingerie and all-women products stores. But unfortunately, the law has not been enacted. It’s been put on hold for unknown reasons till today.
Werman: I got to say the whole premise of men working in women’s lingerie shops just strikes me as really odd in Saudi Arabia. I mean, so many Saudi rules are designed to keep men and women apart. So, how did men end up selling bras and underwear to women?
Asaad: [laughs] As funny as it may sound, it’s not unusual. Traditionally, men have sold everything, so it’s not unusual to find a man behind the counter. However, what have changed is the consumer; the level of awareness of the people in this country. We no longer accept things that are not logical.
Werman: If I may ask, Ms. Asaad, have you shopped in these undergarment stores staffed by men, and what’s that experience like?
Asaad: Well, I have, I have, and the experience is just like that. You’ll be walking in a store and get harassed by a male staff. I have to be honest here, I mean, most male staff don’t mean to harass women or bother them. It’s just that they need to do their job. They have to sell the product and, in the process, they have to get into intimate details, and that is pretty awkward. What is very unfortunate is that women have almost become accustomed to the fact that they buy everything from a man behind the counter that even lingerie is okay.
Werman: Reem, you’re an investment analyst. You work with men?
Asaad: I do work with men. I’ve been working with men over the past 12 years in my corporate life. It still is a male dominated industry like it is in most parts of the world. But, I’ve never found it awkward. I mean, banking in Saudi Arabia is probably the most professional setting.
Werman: I imagine a lot different from working in a lingerie shop.
Werman: Reem Asaad, a Saudi investment analyst and writer. She also advocates for women’s economic rights in Saudi Arabia and has been active in trying to get women sales assistants in lingerie shops. Thank you very much Ms. Asaad.
Asaad: Thank you.
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