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Saudi Arabia launches women’s football championship: “feminism-washing”?

Mohammad bin Salman highlights the feminist virtues of his "League"
Mohammad bin Salman highlights the feminist virtues of his "League"
Mohammad bin Salman highlights the feminist virtues of his "League"
Mohammad bin Salman highlights the feminist virtues of his “League”. (Photo by Nicolas Asfouri – Pool/Getty Images)

Not exactly renowned for its respect for women’s rights, Saudi Arabia will be launching its first women’s football league, the Women Football League. Will you take up feminism washing again?

This March could be historic: the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has just announced the imminent launch of its first women’s football championship, the Women Football League (or WFL). During the competition, several teams made up of experienced players will, therefore, compete from Riyadh to Damman via Jeddah, until the final tournament, the WFL Champions Cup. A big step for the world of sport, and the world at large?

It is at least the opinion of Prince Khaled bin Al-Waleed bin Talal, president of the Saudi Federation of Sports for All (SFA), who sees a good step forward. According to the leader, this football championship will “strengthen the participation of women in sports at the community level, while ensuring increased recognition of women’s sporting achievements”, as reported on the news site Arab News. “The ‘WFL’ was born because we understood that there was a need for community football for women,” he continues enthusiastically.

Everything therefore suggests that this sporting event would be synonymous with empowerment for its participants, and for women in general. But as always, it is important to scrape off this supposedly “girl power” varnish.

A hypocritical event?

Because there is not really anything to be happy about. Last January, Saudi Arabia was already bringing to the skies the so-called feminist values of the new season of the Dakar Rally, organized within the ultra-conservative kingdom. The women pilots (Westerners) were delighted with the organization of this race, which was as noisy and polluting as it was dangerous for the surrounding populations. The Italian pilot Camélia Liparoti saw the opportunity to “show that there are women who do things in a male environment”.

these are the same words that are found today in the mouth of Khaled bin Al-Waleed bin Talal, who already boasts of the success of a League which, by welcoming women aged 17 and over, “will act as a great model in terms of inclusion “. But a kingdom where women are still considered as “minors for life”, find themselves unable to open a bank account, renew their passport or marry without authorization (male), can it really serve of global inspiration?

Far from it for the NGO Amnesty International, which affirms it in an official statement: “The launch of a women’s football league should not distract attention from the catastrophic human rights situation in Saudi Arabia”. Catastrophic, when we think of the imprisonment and torture suffered by those who dare to defend the rights of women. This is particularly the case of activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdulaziz and Samar Badawi, arrested for supporting freedom of driving in their country. Intimidation and repression still persist in Saudi Arabia, where feminism is considered … as extremism.

“This desire to improve the overall situation of women in Saudi Arabia can only be welcomed if it goes hand in hand with the inclusion of courageous individuals who have fought for decades for this change. Instead, they are locked up , while those responsible for their torture in detention remain free, “criticizes Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s director of Middle East research. She doubts the interest of the Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman in women’s rights.

And human rights in short, while many pacifist spirits are still languishing in prison. And that public opinion has not forgotten the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, a critical spirit and (true) defender of citizen freedoms, for once. “As with the other reforms relating to women in the Kingdom, it is a painful reminder of the appalling situation for the women and men who fought for such a change”, continues Lynn Maalouf, who bluntly condemns the use of the “glamor of sport” as a pernicious way “to improve its international image” with big shots of powder in the eyes.

In short, for the director, we are here faced with a blatant case of “feminism washing”: feminism in a joke, really opportunistic and misleading. Deceptive, but insistent. As the initiatives inherent in the Women Football League are accumulating, such as the organization of training sessions for women referees or the establishment of sporting events for teenagers, official League press releases highlight this line with a marker “girl power” by promising “the empowerment of women through positive programs” but also a national will to “put women first.”

Beautiful speeches that struggle to hide a nauseous reality.

What do you think?

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