Women Don't Exist at Saudi Arabia's Ikea

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Ikea's Saudi Arabian catalogue looks like any other Ikea catalogue—weird beds with names you can't pronounce, merchandise that looks way better in photos than it will in your living room—except for one thing: there are no women. They've disappeared... poof! Like they were never there. Sweden's free newspaper, Metro, reported the Photoshopping on Monday. We took a look, and the picture (above) shows that the woman on the left (the U.S. version) has magically disappeared from the Saudi version on the right. Comparing the two, there are also altered ads like this below (Saudi version right) where Ikea has edited out a woman shopping at Ikea: 

And there seems to be woman that disappears from what looks to be a comfy chair:

The Saudi catalog does show young girls doing things like drawing, sleeping and watching television, and there are ads which depict men with women that have been swapped for ones that just show furniture and product, like this: 

And the Saudi version:

"These images are yet another lamentable example of how much remains to be done concerning gender equality in Saudi Arabia ... You cannot be airbrushed from reality" Swedish Trade Minister Ewa Bjorling told Metro. But the odd thing is and as bad as some of the news regarding gender equality in Saudi Arabia is, is that it was Ikea's decision to doctor the images. "According to the information Metro now, it's not that anyone in Saudi Arabia wanted to remove women from the catalog." reads the Metro report (via Google Translate) citing an "Inter Ikea Systems" spokeswoman. Of course,bending to/anticipating Saudi Arabian views of gender to sell your goods seems goes against the Ikea's funding decisions to organizations like the The Lila Poonawalla Foundation, a scholarship foundation aimed at women from disadvantaged families, Women on Wings, an organization committed to helping women achieve employment, and the United Nations Development Fund—Ikea's own website has a "Voices of Women" portal citing their UNDP involvement.

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Update 1:22 p.m.: Ikea has released an official statement (below) taking the blame for the photoshop and apologizing for the decision. It affirms the Metro's report that officials at Ikea actually made the decision in the draft process—meaning that a Saudi Arabian franchisee didn't even ask for the changes. 

Inter IKEA Systems B.V., the worldwide IKEA Franchisor, regrets what has happened and understands that people are upset.

We have, during the course of the day, been in dialogue with Al Sulaiman, our franchisee operating IKEA stores in Saudi Arabia. It is not the local franchisee that has requested the retouch of the discussed pictures. The mistake happened during the work process occurring before presenting the draft catalogue for IKEA Saudi Arabia. We take full responsibility for the mistakes made.

We have reviewed several of the discussed pictures, for example the women in front of the bathroom mirror and the female designer of the PS2012 design collection. Those pictures could very well have been included in the Saudi Arabian catalogue.

We will naturally review our routines and working process, to ensure that this will not happen again. We deeply regret that mistakes have been made in this instance.

Ulrika Englesson Sandman Inter IKEA Systems B.V. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.