JEDDAH, 18 April 2006 — Refuting claims that Saudi women are not interested in working in sales, hundreds have gone to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) over the past two days to fill in applications. Unfortunately, it is the storeowners and businessmen who are showing their unwillingness to give the women a chance.
The Khadija bint Khuwailid Center at JCCI is exerting every effort to recruit, train and place unemployed Saudi women in women’s shops in accordance with the Council of Minister’s decision that will be implemented starting June 18. Over two days, the center has received and registered job applications from over 1,500 women of all ages who have completed high-school or bachelor degrees.
As of Sunday, however, the center had received only about 80 job offers from owners of the shops and stores. In two weeks the center must have enough job offers to begin training. The center conducted a survey and found some 2,500 jobs in lingerie and women’s clothing stores in Jeddah. Despite repeated statements by the Ministry of Labor regarding enforcement of the decision, most businessmen are skeptical.
“It is their national duty to hire Saudis, whether men or women. In this case, they should play their role in reducing the unemployment rate for women and in contributing to the country’s economic development. In the long run, this will be good for their own business and society,” said Dr. Nadia Baeshen, director of the Khadija center.
According to her, the businessmen have no excuse for not complying and there have been plenty of incentives.
The center has already begun training 26 women who will then train the needed number of women. Training costs are free for trainees and businessmen. The trainee receives a stipend during her on-the-job-training, 75 percent of it from the Human Resources Development Fund, which will also continue to pay 50 percent of the women’s salary for the first two years.
Many businessmen have complained about regulations that required men and women be separated in the shops and stores and of the need to conceal saleswomen from public view. Although official regulations require some kind of partition, or at least concealment, the unofficial word is that the labor office, which will monitor the situation, will be lenient on how the storeowner chose to apply the regulation and on allowing families to enter women stores.
However, human resource analyst Sana Halawani believes that most businessmen will look at this as an extra expense which will reduce their profits. She mentioned other problems as well, particularly the reluctance of some businessmen to hire married women since they will not be willing to work long hours for low salaries.
As for the women who have applied for the jobs, the salary — SR3,000 — is acceptable to them. Many of them, however, are concerned about working at night and also of having to deal with men. One new graduate was trying to convince her mother who had accompanied her that it would be acceptable to work in all-women store. The mother agreed but felt that working until 11 p.m. was unacceptable. Another girl said that her parents did not object to her working as a saleswoman but that she could only do so in a store for women only.