Almost every jewellery shop in Saudi Arabia will close down if women are given the opportunity to work in them, according to a Saudi international expert on gold and jewels.
Sami Mahan made the comment after the Labor Ministry announced it intended to appoint women at gold and jewellery shops in the country, in a bid to provide more job opportunities to female Saudis. The Ministry had already granted access to female workers to lingerie, costume and accessory shops in the past few years.
However, Mahan thinks that the initiative will have negative consequences. He said to local newspaper Alsharq: "More than 98% of the shops will close down finally if Saudi women are employed to work in them."
He added that he was not undervaluing Saudi women's skills, but he believes that women's lack of experience in running gold and jewellery shops will lead businesses to fail.
"It is impossible for a woman to run a gold or a jewel shop, which has goods worth millions of riyals. No saleswoman will ever be able to do this."
Mahan said in the Western countries there is insurance coverage of about $3m (£1.8m) when quantities of gold are being transported.
"Such insurance will not be available in the Kingdom when women take over the gold shops," he said, adding that if jewellery shops were "feminised", the clientele would also change.
"We will lose single expatriate men who constitute about 80% of our customers. These people come to us to buy gold for their loved ones back home."
He also added that employing women in gold shops would also require more security guards from the Interior Ministry or private companies.
"This will increase the financial burdens on the traders and cause them to incur great losses," he said.
Youssef Al-Masari, a gold merchant, agreed with Mahan and warned against allowing women to work in gold shops.
"We are not willing to feminise our shops because the risks will be huge for us," he said. "[Women] will not be able to protect the showroom if it is attacked by robbers."
Job Opportunities for Saudi Women 'Almost Non-Existent'
Saudi Arabia opened its first female law firm in Jeddah last January. The firm was founded by Saudi Arabia's first female lawyer Bayan Mahmoud al-Zahran, who made her debut in a Jeddah court in November 2013.
Prior to that, female law graduates could act only as legal consultants and were not allowed to represent clients in court.
Saudi Arabia, the only country where women are not allowed to drive, does not provide many job opportunities for its female citizens. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting – which aims to shed light on under-reported topics – said that at least 60% of Saudi women with a PhD are unemployed and jobs for Saudi women without degrees are "practically non-existent".
Last May, worldwide controversy was sparked after conservative Saudi writer Abdullah Mohamed al-Dawood encouraged his thousands of Twitter followers to sexually harass Saudi women working as supermarket cashiers.