Port Vila, Vanuatu (PressExposure) June 30, 2009 -- Having finally managed to be granted permission to attend a 10-day course on how to fit, stock and sell lingerie, a group of nearly twenty-six Saudi women broke long held religious taboos. The organizers of the course really hope that this will help move forward the campaign to permit women to become saleswomen in the nationâs lingerie shops.
Holding a small celebration in the western seaport of Jiddah, the graduates commemorated completing 40 hours of instruction. The major hurdle for the organizers had been to overcome the women's embarrassment at fitting bras on others and learning how to handle customer complaints, besides learning how to attractively display the stock.
"It was a beautiful experience, but the most shocking thing for me was the bra sizes. We didn't know how to get proper measurements before", Said the thirty-two year-old organizer of the course.
Numbers of Saudi women state they are fed up with having to discuss personal details with male shop assistants and putting up with the scathing eye-examination when asking for a particular cup size.
There was a law passed in 2006 that permitted only female staff to be employed in women's clothing stores. However, the law was never put into action, because hard-liners in the all-powerful religious sectors of the nation strongly opposed the employment of women in mixed environments, such as shopping malls. Nearly all shops in Saudi Arabia are staffed by men, apart from just one or two women-only boutiques.
Saudi Arabian women have long been forced to cover themselves completely in public.
They are not allowed to drive cars, or have the right to vote. They must obtain permission before being allowed to travel overseas. The women however, are slowly finding ways to gain a small amount of freedom, from being able to unofficially blog on the Internet, to forming a campaign that boycotted man-staffed lingerie stores.
A state school for girls was opened in 1960, by the former ruler King Fahd, even though the curriculum was strictly controlled. This however, has generated a group of elite educated Saudi women, even though approximately one third of the nationâs women still remain unable to read or write. Many of the educated women are now asking for job opportunities and the right to vote.
This oil rich country still has strict segregation of the sexes. Close relatives alone can stand in the same line at fast-food outlets, or travel in the same vehicle together. Fundamentalist clerics exert a very strong influence on both government and society. They insist on banning anything they think might lead to the emancipation of women.
Saudi Arabia is one of the nations listed in the 54% of the worldâs countries that are not rated as free, according to the annual report released by Freedom House. These are countries where fundamental human rights and political freedom are either severely repressed, or totally unknown.
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