I remember walking into a chemist (pharmacy) shortly after I had arrived in Riyadh. I was strolling up and down the aisles simply taking in what merchandise was and was not available.
Being female I was particularly interested in the selection of products for when it was “that time of the month.” The first thing that stood out to me was there were no choices or options of tampons. I was not confident enough to ask the Egyptian clerk where I could find them as he was already closely watching my every move. I sauntered over to my husband and whispered my query in his ear. He just looked at my blindly and told me he had no idea what I was talking about. He suggested I keep looking.
I continued up and down the aisles and finally came upon a section for sanitary napkins. I was sure that the tampons would be near but no such luck. However what I did notice that in the same area as the sanitary napkins were stacks of slender brown paper bags. It was evident that women were to put their “sensitive purchases” in the bag before going to the cash register to check out.
The next stop for me was the hair care aisle. I noted that there were a multiple of choices of hair color for the woman who wished to dye her hair. However on closer inspection I noted that the faces of the women had been covered with round stickers. That was my first exposure on seeing the protective measures taken within a place of business on concealing a woman’s face. I was already aware that magazines were generally censored before put on display.
However as my time in the Kingdom passed I saw less censorship and restrictions. More items appeared in chemists, grocery stores and department stores which did not remove the face or image of a woman. I could purchase magazines which did not have the woman’s face or body blurred or inked out. Commercials appeared on local stations with a Saudi woman (in traditional attire).
Therefore, I view the recent release of IKEA’s Saudi catalog omitting the images of women as a fluke and not an issue of equal rights. In fact, IKEA publicly apologized for the incident. It is the global press that tends to make a mountain out of a mole hole.
But, unless there have been recent changes, tampons are still not available in Saudi Arabia. ..