The country has lifted its ban on female drivers, but this is a rebrand, not a revolution. Yet many governments – and media outlets – are being taken in
If I see one more article about Saudi women being able to drive I am going to throw myself under a car. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad Saudi Arabia has lifted the world’s only ban on women driving. But I am also worried. Rather than being a meaningful step towards progress, as much of the coverage suggests, the reversal of the driving ban is quite the opposite. Allowing women behind the wheel is a PR move by Saudi Arabia, designed not to modernise the kingdom, but to render a repressive regime more palatable. Yet many western media outlets seem to be falling for this strategic “women-washing”, as you might call it, hook, line and blinker.
Last month, Saudi Arabia locked up a number of women’s rights campaigners. At midnight on Sunday, when some Saudi women took to the roads for the first time, six high-profile activists who spent years campaigning for that right sat in Saudi Arabian jails, accused – according to declarations in state media reported by Amnesty International – of “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric”.