IKEA Edits Women Out of Saudi Arabian Catalog

The Swedish furniture retailer has been criticized for deleting images of women from the Saudi edition of its catalogue

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REUTERS/Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix

A person holds a copy of the Metro daily newspaper in Stockholm October 1, 2012

Swedish furniture retailer IKEA is known for its uniformity across the world. But one nation is noting a stark difference between its IKEA ads and the ones seen in the other 37 countries that have IKEA stores: where are the women? The home goods company is taking heat for Photoshopping, airbrushing out, and otherwise erasing photos of women from the Saudi Arabian version of their advertising catalog. In a comparison of two identical photos, the Monday morning’s edition of the free Swedish newspaper Metro revealed how the organization had airbrushed out the mother in a family bathroom scene. In the Swedish version of the free glossy catalog, a bathroom scene shows a mother and father getting their two young children washed up. In the Saudi version, the scene is the same, but the mother has been visibly removed.

(MORE: Forget Bookcases – Now You Can Buy an Entire House from IKEA)

Saudi Arabia is dominated by strict Muslim laws, where women are forbidden to travel, study, or even open a bank account without permission from their male “guardian.” The Metro report has raised similar questions regarding IKEA’s policies towards women and gender equality. Sweden’s trade minister Ewa Bjorling didn’t criticize the organization directly but did comment scathingly in the morning newspaper, explaining that we cannot delete women from society.

An IKEA spokesperson said IKEA Saudi Arabia is run by an external franchisee who created the catalog. The company released a statement saying, “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.” The IKEA foundation, the philanthropic side of the company, says it places particular focus on its partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to empower women in India. But the conspicuously missing women in the company’s Saudi catalog are hardly helping to advance such ideals.

MORE: IKEA Plans to Build an Entire Neighborhood Near London

12 comments
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Saudis
Saudis

Muslim don't use woman as advertising tool, westerns do. :|

jgwilsonw
jgwilsonw

Well, in my middle-class American neighborhood the Ikea catalog came in the mail--out of 100 people pictured, just 2 were African-American, pictured only from the back, plus just one person who was apparently of mixed race.

LB2NYC
LB2NYC

As a marketer, you advertise within the local cultural norms and laws. In Saudi Arabia and some, but not all Middle East countries, it is not permissible or accepted to feature women in ANY advertising – even if women are the primary users of the product or service. This is not new. Should they change? As a woman I would say "of course!", but these changes will take a long time and bashing the country or the advertising won't speed up the process. 

youiedward
youiedward

The arab world is messed up beyond repair.  Their hard-headed nature existed long before islam, and may have inspired a lot of its beliefs...as a result those beliefs will continue to be upheld till kingdom come, however backwards they may be!

carlos_e
carlos_e

I find it interesting how the press never mentions anymore, when speaking of arab men, that homosexuality among them is endemic, especially in the gulf (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc.). I recall, for instance, an article on Arafat from the 70's in Time Magazine which mentioned that he was not known to participate in homosexual activities even though arab men usually did. Considering that homosexuality is severely punished in most arab countries, yet everybody seems to practice it, I think this cognitive dissonance should be brought out in the open every chance one gets.

HutuKing
HutuKing

stop trading with them, simple. this is modern day gender apartheid we are talking about. why would they change their behavior when they are swimming in trade surplus with the west.

Jem86
Jem86

Time to boycott IKEA for pandering to misogyny in the extreme.  Take a stand already you useless multinational corporation who claims to uphold 'values' and 'ideals'. 

carlos_e
carlos_e

Saudis are savages, that is all I can say. Maybe people who are trying to sell them stuff are willing to ignore their disgusting misogyny, but I certainly am not.

Starshiprarity
Starshiprarity

I hope we're not trying to get angry at IKEA for tailoring its advertisements to match the demographics its trying to reach.

HutuKing
HutuKing

you should realise all these draconian anti-women laws only apply to saudi citizens, the royals however are free of all these restrictions. the wives of princes openly show hair and skin, the men are gambling addicts and are known to f*** hookers internationally (if they aren't already gay), its obvious saudi gov is intent on maximum subjugation of their women because they are terrified of giving political rights to them.

John Forsthoffer
John Forsthoffer

I agree. If you're in a business to make money (who isn't) you have to do these kinds of things. Can't be angry with IKEA.