Swedish furniture retailer IKEA has removed all women from its Saudi version of the company’s famed catalogue. The action has stirred wild debate in Sweden and caused a stern reaction from Sweden’s trade minister.
IKEA’s catalogue was in 2010 produced in almost 200 million copies and distributed in 29 languages. The catalogue is more or less identical in all countries, except for Saudi Arabia, the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reports.
In the Saudi edition all women have been removed by photo retouching. The original version, however, shows a mother with her child standing by the sink in a styled bathroom. In Saudi, there is no mother and the child is seen alone. Even the female designer, who has been part of the company’s “PS” line of home furnishings, has been erased.
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The action has met criticism in Sweden and whilst Swedish trade minister Ewa Björling refused to comment on a particular company she expressed her standpoint regarding the pictures.
"It's impossible to retouch women out of reality. If Saudi does not allow its women to be seen and work they lose out of half their intellectual capital. These images are yet another regrettable example that shows that we have a long road ahead when it comes to gender equality in Saudi Arabia," she said.
IKEA’s press secretary Sara Carlsson said the company would look into the case, but also referred responsibility for the Saudi catalogue to another franchise.
“I am not aware of the concept in Saudi,” she told Svenska Dagbladet. “The warehouses in Saudi Arabia are run by a different franchise than the IKEA Group.”