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ON CRISIS REPORTING

The View from Riyadh: Working Women

Saudi Working Women 1
Two Saudi saleswomen in Harvey Nichols, the British luxury department store, in Riyadh. In 2011, the Ministry of Labor ordered shops specializing in cosmetics, abayas, and wedding dresses, along with the women’s sections of department stores, to begin shifting to all-female Saudi sales staffs. The process is called “feminization.” Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Saudi Working Women 2
Twenty-seven-year-old Nermin, an employee at Nayomi, a lingerie store. She started working eighteen months ago as a salesclerk; recently, she was promoted to a position in which she oversees hiring and staff training across four Saudi provinces. “I was surprised to find that I like to work,” Nermin said. “Nayomi gave me the chance to go on with my life.” Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Saudi Working Women 3
Sara, age twenty-seven, works at the Dior cosmetics counter at Harvey Nichols. Many saleswomen report that their families treat them differently now that they are financially independent. “Husbands respect women who are working,” Sara said. Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Saudi Working Women 4
Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s lowest rates of female participation in the labor force. It was a mere eighteen per cent in 2011, according to the World Bank. Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Saudi Working Women 5
It took a decree from King Abdullah, in 2011, to put tens of thousands of women into the workforce. For the first time, they are interacting daily with men who are not family members, as cashiers in supermarkets and as salesclerks selling abayas and cosmetics and underwear. Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Saudi Working Women 6
Many store owners quickly discovered that the new saleswomen needed coaching on even the most basic interactions with customers. Unnecessary contact among men and women who aren’t close relatives is forbidden in the Kingdom, and the government devotes vast resources to maintaining strict separation between the sexes. Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Saudi Working Women 7
The feminization policy was announced at the height of the Arab Spring, and it was widely interpreted by Saudi activists as an attempt to forestall pro-democracy protests. Saudi liberals were pleased, but some prominent conservative voices expressed outrage. Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Saudi Working Women 8
Some saleswomen report that they have more freedom now for occasional socializing, although the more conservative of them work only because they need the money. Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Saudi Working Women 9
A saleswoman helps a customer at a dress shop in Al Faisaliyah mall. Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013.


Source: Pulitzer Center