FEMEN's Topless Protesters Get Schooled in the Muslim World


Tunisian feminist Amina Sboui has now called it quits with the Ukranian feminist group FEMEN. Sboui blasted the group for its “Islamophobia” and lack of financial transparency, shortly after her release from prison on August 1.

The group, famous for its tactic of topless protests, confirmed the split on its website, saying Sboui quit over “differences of opinion on tactics in the Islamic countries,” and calling for “new heroines who are able to fight for their courage to shake the rotten foundation of Islamist world.”

Sboui told the Huffington Post that she didn’t want to be “associated with an Islamophobic organization,” and that her fight is about more than dress codes: “I want women to be able to become president if they want to. I want women in rural areas to stop suffering.”

Despite parting ways with FEMEN, Amina posted a new topless photograph of herself, but this time, with an anarchist symbol on her chest, symbolizing the radical changes she’d like to forge in her own country.

“Anarchy is the only solution,” she said to Tunisia Live.

Topless protesting might not be the tactic of choice in the Muslim world, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a rich history of women rebelling against patriarchy there. Here are just a few of the women and groups that could teach FEMEN a thing or two about what radical feminism looks like in a Muslim-majority country.

1. Nawal El Saadawi

Outspoken Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi has spent much of her life fighting against patriarchy in her country. A doctor and writer, El Saadawi has been threatened and sent to prison for speaking out against female circumcision, prostitution, and religious fundamentalism. El Saadawi told the Guardian in 2010 that for her, “feminism includes everything,” tying it to “social justice, political justice, and sexual justice.”

While vocal about religiously motivated oppression, El Saadawi is similarly outspoken about imperialism, and calls herself a “feminist socialist,” against “class oppression and discrimination.”

The 81-year-old has almost 50 works published, and has continued to be active politically in Egypt. In the same 2010 interview with the Guardian, El Saadawi said, “I have noticed that writers, when they are old, become milder. But for me it is the opposite. Age makes me more angry.”

2. Solidaritas Perempuan (Aceh)

Indonesian women’s rights group Solidaritas Perempuan fights for gender equality throughout the Muslim-majority country. The organization’s branch in the Aceh region has been battling against a rise in implementation of sharia laws used to justify violence against women. The region implemented sharia law in 2009, passing laws covering public behavior and also restricting women when it comes to dress and mobility. According to the group, violence against women has only increased after sharia law’s implementation in the region.

Solidaritas Perempuan fights against these laws by creating opportunities for dialogue between government officials and women living in the region. The group not only organizes meetings, it raises awareness through radio programs and social media campaigns focused around the meetings. Solidaritas Perempuan has been successful in bringing culturally justified violence into the public discourse in Aceh. The organization also uses advocacy to lobby for changes in policies that harm women.

3. Shirin Ebadi

Iranian judge, human rights activist, and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has been a vocal critic of the country’s authoritarian regime. Before the Iranian revolution in 1979, Ebadi was the country’s first ever female judge, but was eventually removed from her post after conservative clerics said that Islamic law doesn’t allow for women judges.

Ebadi eventually established the Human Rights Defender Center, and began campaigning for the increased legal rights of women and children, as well as taking on cases brought against dissidents. Her work earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, but in 2009 the lawyer was forced to leave the country. Iranian authorities accused her of evading taxes, and subsequently seized both her prize and her bank accounts. In her book Islamic Awakening, Ebadi addressed the question of religion, saying that the “authentic” version of Islam is one that is “in harmony with equality and democracy.” She also says that “it is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered.”

While Ebadi continues to be critical of the country’s regime, she has also been critical of sanctions against the country. She told the New York Times that they have been “a tremendous blow to people,” and that “the people need these sanctions to be removed for a sustainable life.”