Page last updated at 11:15 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 12:15 UK

First Saudi women work as maids

Laundry basket (generic)
There is a strong stigma attached to domestic work in Saudi Arabia

The first group of Saudi housemaids has begun work under a government scheme, say reports from Saudi Arabia.

Until now, the job - which is regarded by many Saudis as demeaning - had been mostly restricted to Asian women.

The Saudi Ministry of Labour permitted Saudi women to work as maids two years ago, but there has been strong resistance to the move.

Thirty Saudi women aged between 20 and 45 have started work in Jeddah, according to the al-Madina newspaper.

Housemaids can face harsh conditions, including long hours, broken contracts and sexual abuse.

Intensive training

The women are contracted to work eight hours a day for a monthly wage of 1,500 Saudi riyal (£238; $400).

None of them is reported to have a primary school certificate.

Hana Uthman, an employment agency manager, told al-Madina that they had been selected after a series of interviews and intensive training.

He said another 100 women had applied for housemaid posts and were awaiting interview.

Mr Uthman added that the women were supposed to carry out their duties when the male heads of household were out.

Their employers are reported to have signed forms pledging to treat the housemaids in accordance with the law.

The labour ministry's decision two years ago to allow Saudi women to work as maids provoked controversy.

There is a strong social stigma attached to the work, but supporters, such as impoverished widows, argue they need opportunities for honest work.

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