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Lingerie triumph in Saudi Arabia

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For decades, the conservative society of Saudi Arabia has dictated that women buy their lingerie from stores staffed exclusively by men.

But now the situation is set to change following the enactment of a historical decree that holds fresh hope of a brighter future for the state's female citizens.

The country's government confirmed this week that it will begin to enforce a law that says only women can work in women's lingerie stories.

The incentive has the backing of King Abdullah and follows a three-year campaign by female financial adviser Reem Asaad to allow women to work as clerks in underwear shops.

The new decree says that only women should sell in "shops selling women’s accessories" and goes into effect this Thursday (5 January).

Previously, female customers had to negotiate their lingerie needs with male salespeople. One student quoted by Bloomberg News earlier this year described her humiliation after an assistant questioned her cup size.

Etiquette aside, the move to open up employment for women - only 12% are currently employed in a country of 26.2 million - is welcome. However, change won't be easy in a climate governed by strict segregational laws.

Under the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam with which Saudi Arabia adheres to, women are unable to work in enviroments where men are present which greatly restricts where and how they work.

Already, cautionary measures are being put in place to safeguard female sales assistants running the Saudi Arabian equivalent of Victoria's Secret.

Some shops are considering posting male guards outside the doors and hanging heavy black curtains to prevent passing men from seeing inside.

The move is also opposed by Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh, who recently spoke out in opposition to the Labor Ministry's decision.

"The employment of women in stores that sell female apparel and a woman standing face to face with a man selling to him without modesty or shame can lead to wrongdoing, of which the burden of this will fall on the owners of the stores," he said.

What do you think? Is the move to set up women-controlled lingerie stores a step in the right direction for women in Saudi Arabia? Or are there bigger goals to be achieved? What other ways are there for improving the employment situation for women there? Let us know your opinions below, or on Stylist's Twitter account @StylistMagazine.

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