Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat-The Saudi Ministry of Labor has issued a new law to allow women only to work in shops that sell specifically female products and has set a two-year duration in which to establish the new law.
With this comes another decision issued by the cabinet to increase employment opportunities for women.
The eighth article of this decree states that only Saudi women should work in shops specialized in selling private feminine garments and that a time limit should be set for this process. A maximum of two years was determined in which two stages will take place.
Within the first year, women will have replaced male sales representatives in female lingerie outlets in public markets, shopping centers, women sections of department stores, and other shops. At the end of the second year, shops selling women clothes and abayas (a loose black robe worn in public by Saudi women) will also have recruited women as sales representatives.
The decision requires all shop owners to make the relevant changes to their staff during the scheduled period according to the type of products they sell. In addition, they are required to make the necessary changes to the layout of their stores so that the female sales representatives will not be exposed to male passers-by. For this reason, these shops or departments should also have their own specific entrance designated for women.
As part of the decision, there is now the necessity to train Saudi women to work in this field within the set time span through programs organized and funded by the Fund for Human Resource Development, the National Organization for Co-Training, Association of Commerce and Industry, and non-governmental training centers for women. The Ministry of Labor explained that it would coordinate efforts with other ministries and departments to register all relevant shops and enlist them on a special database. The ministry would also regularly check the development of these steps through their male and female inspectors.
A Saudi investor promised yesterday to recruit Saudi women over the next two years in his shop, which sells products for women, on the condition that they are trained for marketing and sales. This could provide up to 5500 jobs for Saudi women.
Fawzan Al-Hekeir, the owner of a chain of shops selling female garments and an agent for Marks and Spencers, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he would work on recruiting Saudi women in accordance to the conditions and rules set by the government. He further believes that the decision should not be restricted to shops associated with women but rather for all outlets in open commercial centers as the idea of single-gender shops has failed in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Hekeir said that the initiative, led by the Ministry of Labor, is a bold one that motivates Saudi women and shop owners to train and gain qualifications for these jobs. He believes that the effects would be positive on the growth of national economy and denied any negative economic effects on shops as long as the women are skillful at their job.
Samira Al-Suwaigh, a businesswoman from eastern Saudi Arabia, reiterated the importance of setting certain frameworks and legal systems to regulate the recruitment of Saudi women in shops. The involvement of some government departments should not be imposed upon shop owners and employees in these shops. A certain authority may appoint a representative to remain in the retail outlets where Saudi women will work guaranteeing that these girls preserve the modest Islamic dress during their daily work.
Omar Al-Omar, a professor of marketing in Al-Saud University, believes that the authority who issued the law should elaborate on whether the law will affect all shops that sell female products such as cosmetics and perfumes or lingerie outlets only.
However, Omar argues that the decision is in the best interest for Saudi citizens. It will create new job opportunities for women especially considering that this career does not require high educational degrees as much as training and skills. It is the duty of the shop owners and government to provide such training programs and to carry out the replacement process smoothly in order to prevent any negative impact on other shops.
He also mentioned that putting this law into action might encounter many difficulties. The decision is daring and its effects would only be temporary as long as there institutes teach Saudi girls how to deal with the market. Another advantage, he mentioned, was that having female sales representatives at such shops would generally change the shopping attitudes of Saudi women and help them develop a more comfortable psychology allowing them to focus on their needs without having to consider the presence of salesmen.