Swedish furniture giant IKEA has landed itself in hot water in its home country after women and girls were airbrushed out of some of the pictures in its Saudi Arabian catalogue.
A local version of IKEA’s yearly catalogue, published on its Saudi website, shows images that are identical to those in other editions save for one detail: the women are gone.
“We are looking into the issue and holding a dialogue with our Saudi franchise holder,” said Ulrika Englesson Sandman, a spokesperson for Inter IKEA Systems, which owns the IKEA trademark and concept.
When entering a new market the company always takes into account the ability to balance local culture and legislation with its own values, she added.
The removal of women from the pages of the Saudi edition, including a young girl who was pictured studying at her desk, has prompted a strong response from Swedes, who pride themselves on egalitarian policies and a narrow gender gap.
“You can’t remove or airbrush women out of reality. If Saudi Arabia does not allow women to be seen or heard, or to work, they are letting half their intellectual capital go to waste,” Ewa Bjoerling, the trade minister, said in a statement.
Her sentiment was echoed by Swedish European Union minister Birgitta Ohlsson, who branded the incident “medieval” on social networking site Twitter.
Saudi Arabia applies strict rules of gender segregation, banning women from driving and requiring them to have permission from a male guardian before travelling or receiving medical care.
IKEA’s Saudi franchise partner currently operates three stores in the country, where it has seen “double digit” yearly growth over the past five years, according to its website.