Walmart at the NYSE
Walmart at the NYSE Reuters

In Saudi Arabia, Walmart stores have been ordered to build a gender separation wall -- actually a mechitzeh – to divide men and women in the workplace.

The idea is an ancient one, dating back far beyond Islam to Biblical times when G-d first Commanded the People of Israel to form a quorum for certain prayers solely from a group of ten adult males. 

The new rule, issued by Labor Minister Adel Faqih, was confirmed by Abdullatif al-Sheikh, head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Al Arabiya news network reported.

The separation barrier is required to be a minimum of 1.6 meters (5 feet, 3 inches).

Another restriction placed upon merchants in the kingdom focuses on who can sell what, and where.

In June 2011, authorities clamped down on lingerie shops, ordered owners to fire any sales personnel who were not Saudi females. The rule was later extended to cosmetic outlets as well.

The commission, known on the street as the “Mutawa” or “religious police,” claimed that women said they felt uncomfortable buying personal items from males, prompting the initiative. 

The Mutawa accused the country’s labor ministry of failing to promote a safe work environment for women, saying many had complained of harassment.

According to the country’s labor ministry, it was expected the order would open up some 44,000 jobs for Saudi women, whose unemployment rate currently stands at 30 percent.

However, it was not clear what would happen to any sales women who are citizens of other countries. There have been numerous reports, documented by the international Human Rights Watch organization, of extreme abuse of female domestic foreign workers by their Saudi employers.