On the left, an IKEA bathroom ad in Sweden, and on the right, in Saudi Arabia.

Gender inequality is the norm in Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive, and must be covered in public. Now, a chilling IKEA advertisement that has photoshopped out of all the women entirely drives home how disturbingly real the problem is.

Editors at the Swedish edition of Metro (newspaper) noticed that in IKEA’s latest Saudi Arabia catalog all the women have been Photoshopped out. IKEA themselves had digitally erased them. You can see from the photo that this was no simple task. In a bathroom, the mother standing at the sink with her son was transformed to show the son standing at the sink alone. In another section of the catalog, one of IKEA’s own designers, Clara Gausch, was erased from a photo featuring four of their own designers. Disturbing.

In a statement to the BBC, IKEA has apologized, saying, “excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the Ikea Group values.” It blamed the missing women on the franchisee who runs Ikea’s Saudi operations, saying “We do not accept any kind of discrimination.” 

Sweden’s trade minister Ewa Björling told Metro that the invisible women were a “sad example” of gender inequality in the country, but also pointed out that despite their best efforts, “you can’t delete women from society.”

It’s not uncommon for stores to have international headquarters and or other management companies in each of the countries  they do business in, but it doesn’t make this any less chilling. The folks at their main headquarters may not have known that the ad photoshopped the women out, (although I have a feeling someone did,) but for certain, they do know the state of how women are treated there. All businesses need to consider where they stand on their beliefs before doing business in a given place – and what they’re willing to do to make money.
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