Tunisia’s battle with topless women

Sophie Ghaziri
Sophie Ghaziri
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Femen, a leading women’s protest movement, has stirred chaos in Tunisia as it strives to support one of its activists. Everybody knows her as Amina, who was jailed 10 days before three European women were arrested for standing in solidarity with her cause.

Amina is in detention, and has been charged with indecency and desecrating a cemetery. The young Tunisian may even be accused of acting as part of an organized gang. However, she has yet to be sentenced.

Amina has been the talk of the town, or shall I say the world, for the last couple of months, and Salafist clerics have even called for her to be stoned to death. This all came about after she exposed her breasts and wrote on her chest “my body is my own.” She said this was a stand for her rights, for women’s rights.

Femen has an extremist philosophy, where women tend to protest - for the most part in the nude - to make a statement. Most of the time it is in support of gender equality, but the way demonstrations are held may leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Modest? Certainly not. Protests held recently in Tunisia saw three European activists imprisoned until further notice. “The trial has been adjourned to June 12. The bail request for the three Femen activists was refused,” defense lawyer Souheib Bahri told Agence France Presse.

Protesting naked in the street in a Muslim or Arab country is not going to help eradicate a patriarchal mentality.

Sophie Ghaziri

In the next inquiry, the judge hearing the case of the three women will have to decide whether to allow several Islamist groups to participate in the trial. The defendants’ lawyer has accused Tunisia’s judicial system of taking the stance of “Salafists” over the testimony of the women.

“Without giving a word to the Femen activists, the court has right from the beginning listened to the Salafist associations, who are not even a part of this trial,” French lawyer Patrick Klugman told AFP. Is that what really happened, or is the judicial system respecting the laws, traditions and conduct of a nation that these women did not take into consideration?

They are being charged with indecency and an attack on public morals after they staged a topless protest outside Tunisia’s main courthouse. The question here is: do we blame the Islamist government for not allowing peaceful protests, or did these women take the demonstration a step too far?

Femen founder Inna Shevchenk is an activist and a supposed leader of a women’s movement. However, she does not seem to realize that what she does degrades women to some degree.

In April, she wrote in The Guardian: “We are Femen. Our nakedness attacks the raw nerve of the historic conflict between women and ‘the system.’ We are nothing less than its most visual and fitting embodiment. Our activists’ bodies represent undisguised hatred for the patriarchal order, and display the new aesthetics of a rejuvenated woman’s revolution.”

How does being naked help to counter patriarchal societies? How are these shock tactics, which are even shocking to women, supposed to have an impact on societies that do not acknowledge or even understand that kind of behavior?

I was at a women’s rights conference in Malaysia just last week, where hundreds were fighting for gender equality, the rights of women and their role in society, in both the West and the Middle East. One of the main themes was the fight against sexualized violence, and how to develop and change mentalities.

Protesting naked in the street in a Muslim or Arab country is not going to help eradicate a patriarchal mentality; on the contrary. It also creates another obstacle for all women who are working for equality and respect for our gender.

Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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