Saudi women eye lingerie shops in battle over jobs

Wed Nov 10, 2010 2:05pm EST
 
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By Asma Alsharif

JEDDAH (Reuters Life!) - The first thing Dalya does when entering a lingerie shop in Saudi Arabia is scan the area for men after an embarrassing encounter a year ago.

With colorful lace, cotton and sheer bras on display, the 26-year-old vividly remembers when she randomly picked one up to examine it only to be surprised by a male voice saying: "That bra is not your size, you need one two sizes bigger."

It was a salesman trying to be helpful, she discovered, though she was further unnerved when she realized he had correctly estimated her size.

In the ultra conservative Saudi Arabia -- where women have long been discouraged from taking up work in public places that allow male access -- even lingerie shops are still mostly staffed by male employees.

Religious police patrol the streets to ensure adherence to the country's strict segregation laws and to make sure that women, who are also not allowed to drive, are covered in loose black garments (abayas) when they are out in public.

"I was shocked because I realized that the salesman actually scanned my body, even though I was covered in my abaya, and he actually got the right size," said Dalya, whose last name has been withheld to protect her privacy.

"That made me very uncomfortable."

Dalya's discomfort with the state of affairs is a growing concern among Saudi women who are forced to buy their intimate clothing from men in a conservative society where female modesty is paramount.   Continued...

 
<p>Saudi women pray during Eid al-Adha celebrations on a street in Riyadh November 27, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer</p>