Saudi women working in the outlets got embroiled in a dispute three years ago with the labour ministry and the powerful religious authority, which issued a fatwa banning such jobs. The decree from the king was part of a push to reduce the amount of female unemployment in the conservative kingdom, currently at around 30 per cent. Saudi women say they have been uncomfortable buying lingerie from men and would prefer female sales assistants.
Fatima Garub, founder of a Facebook campaign called 'Enough Embarrassment', backed the king's decision saying it would create about 6,000 jobs for Saudi women. 'From now, embarrassment will end,' she said. 'We thank the king who felt our problem and took the decision that we have been waiting for a long time.'
In February last year, campaigners urged women to boycott lingerie shops with male staff for two week. They said that women should not have to give their measurements to men they don't know because it contradicted Muslim law. Islamic scholars backed the boycott.
Religious leaders in the Wahhabi form of Islam - which makes up the majority of the country - require complete separation of members of the opposite sex who are not related. The Saudi society continues to be incredibly traditional and the idea of women working is frowned upon.