The Swedish newspaper Metro was the first to report the removal of all women from IKEA’s 2013 Saudi Arabian catalogue. Metro reports that IKEA have taken the strict Saudi rules concerning women’s freedom one step further by completely removing any evidence of women in the catalogue. The only female designer representing the PS collection, Clara Gausch, was also removed. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to vote, drive cars, or leave their home without male company. According to Metro, it is common that IKEA catalogues are adapted to “fit” cultural traditions in certain countries. For example, in Saudi Arabia the name wineglass has been changed to “partyglass” since the consumption and distribution of alcohol is prohibited.
IKEA is however not the only company removing images of women when targeting the Saudi Arabian consumers. When Starbucks opened their doors in Saudi Arabia the woman in the logo was completely removed, only her crown remained.
IKEA apparently released a statement apologizing for the removal of the women: “We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values.”
Even though women do not appear very frequently in advertisements in Saudi Arabia, and magazines are subject to intense censoring, the complete removal of women from the catalogue intensifies the issue of gender inequality and women’s place in the world. The phrase “it’s a man’s world” can perhaps best describe the reasoning behind removing women from the catalogue. Whether IKEA felt the need to be politically correct, pay heed to Saudi culture, or simply come up with a profitable way to still use the catalogue, our world is still full of women. That women exist is a fact that cannot be ignored. If IKEA feel the need to remove women from their catalogue, they might consider removing men as well and just show the furniture that they are selling. As disrespectful as it is to remove the women in the catalogue, we feel that it is equally disrespectful to remove the only female working on the PS collection, thereby both discrediting her work while simultaneously refusing to stand up for the female employees of the company. Instead, IKEA sends the message that women are expendable in comparison to men, that gender is an important characteristic for success and recognition in the company and that gender equality is at the bottom of their list.
The picture shows the IKEA family card and was uploaded by Flickr user monoooki and shared under a creative commons license.