In light of the ongoing controversy surrounding the Ukrainian women’s rights group FEMEN and their nude protests across Europe aiming to counter the anti-women’s rights positions in the Arab world, Muslim women have lashed out, saying that taking off their clothes “does not liberate me.” There seems to be a chasm between those who support FEMEN action and those who disagree with the use of nudity to push women’s rights, especially in the conservative Arab world.
Both sides have been succinct and solid arguments in favor or opposition of the nude body as a means to promote women’s issues in the Islamic world.
The use of nudity in the Arab world was sparked in the fall 2011, when Aliaa Mahdy changed the global perspective on how women are viewed in the Arab world, posting in November that year a full-frontal nude photo of herself on her blog.
The hits kept pouring in by the minute, with hundreds of thousands of Arabs clicking on her blog to view her nude self.
For Mahdy, it was a symbolic protest against the status of women in Egypt and across the Arab world. She said enough to the centuries of male-domination meted out to women in the country and the region. It was the beginning of the Islamic world’s “Nude Spring” and launched a debate over women’s rights, or rather, “what is appropriate for women.”
The Ukrainian women’s rights group FEMEN held its “Topless Jihad” demonstrations on Thursday at Tunisian embassies across Europe, dropping their shirts in what they said was a show of liberation and protest against the ongoing crackdown of women’s rights in the Arab world two years on from a series of revolutions that shook the region.
But the naked protest has also led to a backlash by female activists in the Middle East and by Muslim women across the globe, who continue to say they do not need to get naked to show strength and push for their rights.
The protests were held in numerous European capitals, including Paris, Berlin, and Kyiv, to spotlight the case of Tunisian activist Amina Tyler.
Tyler caused controversy last month when she posted online photos of herself with the words “My body belongs to me” and “Fuck your morals” across her breasts.
“We’re free, we’re naked, it’s our right, it’s our body it’s our rules, and nobody can use religion and some other holy things to abuse women, to oppress them,” Femen member Alexandra Shevchenko told AFP at a small protest at a Berlin mosque.
In response to the growing topless protests by Ukrainian women’s organization FEMEN, Muslim women from across the globe has come together to tell the women’s rights activists that “nudity does not liberate me.”
It is the latest in the ongoing controversy surrounding FEMEN, who have come to international fame for their nude protests in front of embassies calling for women’s liberation in Europe and the Islamic world. The group has also staged protests at European football events in an effort to bring an end to the sex trade that has become part of the sport.
But Muslim women are lashing out, saying that one need not take off their clothes in order to be heard. They have dubbed FEMEN, “sextremists” and said that Muslimah Pride Day” was organised in response to Femen’s self-declared “Topless Jihad Day.”
But the point of the Nude Spring, whether intentional or not, is that women continue to face a double-edged sword.
Take for example the attacks on Egypt’s Tahrir protesters, women in specific, who were accused of “fornication” and “drug use” by the ruling military junta in the country. Women face an uphill battle, with a snowball towering toward them in Egypt and around the region. To do what they want with their bodies seems to not be their own personal decision, but the decision of the men that control their destiny.
So when Mahdy removed her clothes, she undressed the liberals and their calls for freedom. Obviously, in their mind, she made a mistake. She was wrong. Nudity has no place in Egypt. But for the millions of women, who on a daily basis face sexual harassment, assault and categorical oppression from all sides, she did what no activist has been able to do. She won. She told the world that her body is owned by nobody other than herself. Disagree with the tactic, fine, but one must, if they truly espouse the idea of freedom of expression, support her in her cause.
Everyone does not have to agree with her, especially women in the Arab world, but they must respect her decision to be heard. They must understand the courage that it takes to be naked, vulnerable, in a society that uses women as sex objects. This is vital in understanding the future of women’s rights. There is not one unified movement for women in the Middle East, but through debate and dialogue, women can continue to push the boundaries that have been forced upon them for generations in the hope of creating the change they saw possible in January 2011.