Page last updated at 18:11 GMT, Saturday, 13 February 2010

Saudi call for boycott against men selling lingerie

Reem Asaad
Reem Asaad recommends women go to women-only lingerie shops

Campaigners in Saudi Arabia have urged women there to begin a two-week boycott of lingerie shops with male staff.

They say it is a contradiction that in such a conservative, Islamic country, women have to give their underwear sizes to men they do not know.

Reem Asaad, an economics professor from Jeddah, organised the boycott through her Facebook page, as public protests are illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Islamic scholars have given their backing to the campaign.

"I am calling for salesmen to be replaced with saleswomen", Ms Asaad was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

"I just hope that many respond and boycott," she said.

Ms Asaad has been calling on officials to allow saleswomen in shops open to both male and female clients since 2008.

Religious police in the country have said they are not against women working in shops as long as they are in women-only malls.

Saudi Arabia's Labour Ministry has previously said it would require that women were employed in lingerie shops, but the law has not been enforced.

Ms Asaad says the law is deliberately ambiguous and allows religious clerics to effectively uphold a ban on saleswomen.

The Wahhabi strain of Islam, which dominates the country, requires absolute separation of unrelated members of the opposite sex.

Parts of Saudi society are still very traditional and do not like the idea of women working - even if they are just selling underwear to each other.

Because of the strict segregation laws barring physical contact between the sexes, women also cannot be properly measured for their underwear.

The boycott campaign comes days before a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will hold a town hall meeting at Ms Asaad's Dar al-Hekma College.

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