JEDDAH —Saudi women are entering uncharted waters by setting up and manning their own kiosks in the city’s downtown area.
Following the decision allowing women to sell lingerie and make-up products, a 40-year-old woman who did not wished to be named, has stormed the male bastion at the Al-Shula’a market in Bab Makkah.
After setting up shop in this market three months ago, the owner is now employing females to market her goods — lingerie and makeup products. The women working at various booths in the market are of different age — from 40 to teens.
Though there’s the wide gap in age, there’s one thing that’s common among the females who are at these kiosks — all are conservatively dressed. They are veiled and wear abayas while displaying products or discussing matters with their male counterparts. The 40-year-old who opened her own kiosk to sell makeup products, is just happy that she made this move. Apart from working for herself, she is all praise for the environment in the market.
Security is there, she said, adding that during her three months here she has not faced any problems or harassments. “Men working in nearby shops tend to help us. They are very supportive, they first helped me arrange my products and also help me close the kiosk. They also intervene if any issue arises...”
Walid Al-Garni, a security personnel at the market, said working female tend to be harassed often. “We contact the police and the Ha’ia members if it becomes an issue,” he said, adding that employment of women security personnel could be beneficial.
“As men cannot interfere in conflicts between female employees or the buyers, it would be preferable to have women security personnel in the market.”
Apart from the kiosk owner, a young high school student has begun working at the market just a month ago. Bayan, who lives nearby, said that her family was at first against this job but got over it soon, and now “my family drops and picks me up. I work from 5: 00 p.m. till 11:00 p.m.”
“I like my work and working here,” she said, adding that she has not been harassed since she started work.
A security officer at a mall in north Jeddah said that harassment is an issue and surfaces once or twice a week. He said, we transfer any issue to the administration of the mall. “As security officers here we are asked only to monitor the entrances of the mall, any conflicts or harassment cases is transferred to the administration.”
A high school student working at a cosmetic shop at a mall in north Jeddah said young men tend to pass by many times and attempt to enter to drop their mobile numbers. “When we agreed to work here we knew about this pitfall. It will take time for harassment to fade away.”
Asked if such harassment would make her quit, she said, “What we face are minor issues, I get a good salary, but what we really need is for authorities to provide transport or an equivalent fee, as over a quarter of my salary is being spent on transportation.”
Fahad Al-Tekhaifi, Deputy Minister of Labor and General Supervisor of Employment of Women in the private sector, said that the ministry is discussing with markets and mall owners to allocate separate sections for shops that employ women.
At the same time he said they want to equip these markets by convincing the private sector to establish nurseries and transportation projects that can serve women working in shops.
Women are to begin working in abaya and accessory shops soon. At a later stage the authorities would like more women to work in malls as some 90 percent of products displayed at malls are allocated for women.
Meanwhile, Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, President of the Commission for Promotion for Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Ha’ia), has criticized the implementation of employing women in shops and said that the Ministry of Labor did not provide an environment that is safe and welcoming for women.
According to him they have documented cases of some Saudi women quitting due to continued harassments while others have chosen to remain silent about it. He described what is going on in malls as “shameful.”