(Which) women’s employment in Saudi Arabia as a result of banning men from working in lingerie stores (?)

There has been a lot of discussion lately on how opportunities for female employment are beginning to increase, especially with the recent ban on male employment in lingerie stores in Saudi Arabia. However, it must be notes that the applicants for most of the job vacancies are from South Asian and Southeast Asian migrant laborers, not Saudi Arabian women who only compose  7% of the work force in the Kingdom (government figures). According to the Labor Ministry, over 28,000 women have already applied for the jobs in lingerie stores, but most are South Asian migrant women. In this respect,the opportunities to work in stores rather than as domestic workers is certainly a positive step for the thousands of female labor migrants in the country. In Saudi Arabia, migrant laborers already make up a majority of their work force, and this is not just associated with the cleaners, construction workers, etc. Most of the country’s doctors, engineers, and other technical professionals are also foreigners, often recruited heavily from some of the top agencies abroad.

While more Saudi women are getting educated in the country, the scope for their actual participation in the labor market remains  abysmal. Female employment is not going up for Saudi women, and they are not going to suddenly apply for thousands of shop assistant jobs.

Picking on details- the new proposal that could make women cover their eyes in Saudi Arabia

Women in Saudi Arabia are already made, by law, to wear the abbayah/abaya in Saudi Arabia (long black cloak). The law does not however, technically say that women have to cover their hair. Interpretations of the law, of cultural notions, and media may make it seem as if you do need to cover your hair, however.

Now to the news that there is a proposal to force women in Saudi Arabia to cover their eyes as well, or as some media reports have taken the liking to term it as, covering their “sexy eyes”.

A few notes:

1) It is reported that Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice [CPVPV] (also known as the religious police or Mutawa) have made this call. The religious police has over the past decade lost a significant portion of power to control or prosecute what they may deem as immoral behavior in Saudi Arabia. While general stereotypes and historical events may make people from the outside think that they are a powerful force, this has not been the case, especially in cities like Khobar and Dammam where the most the religious police has done recently is to go up to a woman and ask her to cover her hair. She can refuse and simply walk away, as personally observed.

2) The announcement came a few days following the incident of a Saudi man being sent to the hospital after fighting with a Mutawa, and being stabbed by the Mutawa, after he ordered his wife to cover her eyes. Interestingly, the attention has gone to asking women to cover their eyes, not to the Mutawa for using such violence upon civilians. No where in the religious police code should deem such a violence and furthermore, allow members to be involved in a “process of punishment” that gets out of hand. This may be just another way to exert their already losing power over civil obedience in the Kingdom

3) The news comes weeks after the announcement that Saudi women will be allowed to cast votes in the Kingdom, and rumors of finally allowing women to drive one day. These are significant events which may truly turn they very way that families function in Saudi Arabia- a process much needed for a society, as well as for their place in international diplomacy and affairs. However, with the next line in the throne being Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, it may be a bit more difficult than hoped (he is allied more closely with the conservative sector of the country).

4) If the eyes of the women are tempting, stop looking at her. A very simple solution for all the men who are also supposed to lower their gaze. If the Mutawa is in existence to ensure that people are complying with Islamic “rules” and obedience, it may do well to reconsider their methods and see that religious rules are not specific to just one gender.  

Barbie Dolls in Burqa Presented in Italy’s Barbie Fashion Show

Yet again, the problem with this:

– calling it “Islamic” and/ or “Islamic fashion” leads to a false image of what Islamic clothing is. There is no Islamic fashion or Islamic dress. This is another case of confusing religion with culture, and not allowing it to be de-linked. Burka, while traditional in certain regions of the world, is not something that symbolizes Islam, a religion that spreads around the globe and includes many elasticities. This is not to say that burqa should be dismissed. Rather, it is a cultural aspect of many societies, worn by many women out of choice rather than force. What I have a problem with is the labeling- by calling it “Islamic fashion” only enforces stereotypes of Muslim women to be one-dimentional.

Article here.

Freitag: Parastou Forouhar


In a culture of concealment, the significance of the visible is heightened. The fragments of the body that can be shown symbolically represent all that cannot be shown and cannot be said. This makes them eloquent and multivalent.

Friday …it is also a day on which the long Friday prayers and sermons, so important to Islamists, are held at the mosque. A day when morality and order are invoked and defined, when the mullahs of Iran often speak to crowds of thousands, who then chant their propaganda slogans. Rhythmically, ecstatically.

By Parastou Forouhar


Wife of Al Qaeda Member Has Childcare Message

“Fighting is not easy for women because they need a male guardian by their side. … But we can place ourselves in service of the mujahedeen and do what they ask of us. We can help by supporting warriors with money or information or even by a martyrdom operation.”

*CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the document, which appeared on multiple radical Islamist Web sites.

CNN’s senior editor for Middle East affairs, Octavia Nasr, said it is not a usual practice for women linked to al Qaeda to release messages.

“It signals that al Qaeda seems to be aggressively reaching out to the female population, whereas in the past their focus was mainly on men,” she said.

Lalla Essaydi / Les Femmes du Maroc : Art

Les Femmes du Maroc #16

By Lalla Essaydi

Work- Photographs, C-Print, Contemporary, Moroccan: 2006.

Art that is redefining, and challenging the idea of women in Islam today. Essaydi, a Moroccan who grew up in Saudi Arabia and later moved to Boston uses photographs to showcase the idea of Muslim women- a way of looking at their lives and identities.She takes a portrait and fuses Islamic, Arabic calligraphy in a unique style. As for composition, she uses structures common to orientalist paintings from the 19th Century.

Feel exclusive- beauty parlors in Saudi Arabia

The first time that I went to a parlor was with two Saudi sisters whom I had befriended that wanted to show me a “Saudi experience”, and took me to their mall (their father owns the entire complex). There was a shabby looking door between the electronics store and a glitzy ice cream parlor, and through it I went, only to fine myself in a large, marble floored, mirrored and chandelier glistening salon where not a single women was covered in a headscarf. The waiting room was decorated with paintings and plush couches, European magazines, flat screen televisions, as well as a little stall that were selling all kinds of goods from makeup to Gucci wallets.

A Philippine woman (they primarily make up the workforce in these salons) took me to one of their highly equipped leather chair as they gave me a set of books to choose a hairstyle from, massaging my hair, calling me “darrrrling” and “sweetie” every now and then as they complimented me. Once I chose, or rather one of my friends did for me as she pointed to a  blond model with a multi-layered straight cut (“It’s so modern!”) for myself, I was handed a menu of their coffee service. With a cappuccino in hand served on vintage china, I just stared in awe at the other women who came in and out ripping off their abbayahs to reveal designer clothes and heavily highlighted hair all looking simply radiant. With one of the best haircuts I had ever received, I had to politely refuse their other services (mint massages, arm waxing, Persian manicures, to a full body oil massage, to name a few) as my friend paid for my service so I never got a chance to look at how much all of this cost me. The hospitality Saudi women that I have been able to friend have been truly generous.

Most beauty parlors are run by expats who are usually sponsored by a male relative and work under a Saudi family name, or another sponsor. The city of Jeddah alone has about 7,000 beauty parlors. In 1968, a ruling was passed that states that women are not allowed to open a place for styling for fashion. So, salons usually operate under women’s tailoring shops. While social norms are made clear in all possible ways, these beauty parlors are highly demanded.

Going to a beauty parlor in Saudi Arabia is something no women should miss out on if they are ever lucky to even come to the Kingdom. I have been to beauty parlors twice in my three visits here, and they left me in quite a state- not only do you get to meet Saudi women underneath all of the covering, but you are made to feel like an exclusive star (especially when they hear that you are from a Western country).

I thought that my experience was unique, but I learned through asking many that parlors are indeed as amazing as I experienced on my few encounters. One woman told me how it was the only place that she could go to and makes herself feel good about her, mingle with her friends, and indulge on things that would be otherwise frowned upon in the public eye. It was a place for women to show off to other women. And also a place that one young, newly woman told me was necessary as her husband wanted her to look “perfect” for him everyday. And of course, the place is just fun- clean, low stress, and at least two stylists always on your case whether it is because you want more coffee or demand a change of nail polish. Coloring the eye brows and shaping them is apparently one of the most popular services as often they are the only things you will see of a woman on the streets. And in a culture where luxury is parallel with day to day living, paying for beauty is rarely a concern.

Locating a parlor is difficult enough, given the taboo of the subject. Parlors and salons are usually hidden, even in popularly termed “ladies’ market” that is found in every city. You almost always have to ask someone to get an idea of where you go for a much needed haircut.

They are usually gated; entrances marked by a tall door that will unlock once you press the buzzer. Signs that warn against male entry are mandatory. My last visit was a private home turned parlor that was equipped with a camera and three different buzzers that made sure that it was only women who were entering the vicinity. This makes the entire experience that much more exclusive, and further reinforces the segregation of genders in the Kingdom. So while we can endlessly discuss this segregation and its cultural implications upon women, in the meanwhile they enjoy this luxury without complaint.