Some time ago the King decreed that women were to be employed in lingerie shops which duly came to pass without the world coming to an end as some conservatives were trying to tell people would happen. He followed this up with a decree that all cosmetic counters must be manned by women. And soon, according to this report in the Saudi Gazette, women will be working in abaya shops, clothing stores and numerous other retail outlets.
Make-up counters and lingerie stores aren't the only place you will find Saudi women at work today. A recent trip to the hospital found a shifting sea of black amongst the admin/reception staff. New arrivals to the country have complained how unwelcoming it is to approach a woman in black. It pays to remember that a year ago you wouldn't have been met by a woman at the counter, much less one in black.
This is progress.
Keeping the youthful population of Saudi from revolting as they have in the rest of the Middle East due largely to unresponsive, out of touch, rip off leadership probably had something to do with these decisions.
The pressure to deal with the high unemployment of Saudi women and the nonsensicalness of demanding extreme gender segregation then making strange men sell women their underwear and look deeply into their eyes to tell them what color eye shadow suits their personality was probably added incentive to implementing the changes.
As mall trawling is not one of my regular pass times it wasn't until yesterday that I met a wonderful young Saudi woman providing customer service at a makeup counter in a major department store.
At this point in my post I can hear my daughters - 'Mum, you're at a make-up counter! OMG!'
Make-up is not something I do, apart from a little lippy now and then. Skin care, yes. Make up, no. The stop at the make-up counter was for my Saudi friend, for what is a mall trip without company.
Her story, which N translated for me, goes something like this:
She needs the job to support her through her study course. She has every intention of working her way to the top of the profession she has chosen to study. The cosmetic job was advertised at the institute where she studies. She put in her application and got the job.
N and I discussed her story as we wondered around the mall. Our discussion reminded me of two things that are oft times overlooked by expats as we comment on how different life is in the Magic Kingdom - Not all Saudi's are rich. Not all Saudi's are lazy.She gets up in the morning and heads off to an institute to study her course from 7am till 2pm. Then she comes to the department store and works from 4pm till 10pm. She does this most days of the week. On days when there is a special promotion (and promotions often last 2 - 3 days), she has to give up her attendance at study to work on the shop floor all day. She admitted she is very tired.
Of course quite a few are rich.
With so many stories circulating about how Saudi's, (mostly the men), don't like to, don't want to or don't know how to work it was inspiring to meet a young woman who is taking hold of the changes being implemented by the current King with both hands and making the most of them. And she's working hard.
It has been said by many that the women will change this country (as they have most others - can you feel the female bias?). If this one young woman is a reflection of the attitude that the female half of the Saudi population possesses then watch out men. You're about to be steam rolled by women working on make-up counters!