Ukraine: ‘Topless Jihad’ stirs ire of many around globe

Minutes after her arrest by German officials for flashing her bare chest feet away from a flustered German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin, activist Aleksandra Shevchenko steadfastly refuted the criticism of the latest antics of Femen, the Ukraine-based "sextremist" organization of which she is a key member.

Femen recently stirred international controversy with its International Topless Jihad Day, which saw participants strip in front of Tunisian embassies of their countries and local mosques. These activities raised the ire of female Muslims who claim they do not "need saving."

"Muslim women will undress more and more," Shevchenko told The Prague Post via telephone from a Hanover police station, where she had been brought after an unrelated April 8 action targeting Femen's nemesis, Putin, on a state visit to Germany. "The reaction of the Islamic world and islamists will change more and more actively."

The impetus for the Topless Jihad was 19-year-old Tunisian Amina Tyler, who March 11 uploaded two topless photos of herself online. In both images, she had penned messages across her body stating, "My body belongs to me, it is not the source of anyone's honor," and "F**k your morals."

Her act caused a violent reaction within her community. Tyler received many death threats addressed to her and her family. She has now gone into hiding, and her family has forbidden her from communicating with the outside world, according to a televised interview by the French television channel Canal+.

A more severe reaction came from the leader of the conservative religious organization Moderate Association for Awareness and Reform, Almi Adel.

"The young lady should be punished according to sharia, with 80 to 100 lashes, but [because of] the severity of the act she has committed, she deserves to be stoned to death," he said in an interview for Assabah News, a largely state-owned Tunisian news website.

Femen's legion of supporters protested against Tyler's treatment by writing messages on their topless bodies and undressing in front of Tunisian embassies or local mosques. Tyler herself had considered herself a part of Femen and established a Tunisian branch of the organization. The protests were held April 4 in Femen's hometown Kyiv, as well as in Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Paris, Milan and other cities.

"We'll fight against them. And our boobs will be stronger than their stones," Schevchenko had yelled out while protesting in Berlin.

Topless Jihad Day evoked a riled response from Muslim communities in Europe and worldwide. Sofia Ahmed, a Muslim woman currently living in Manchester, posted an image of herself wearing a scarf around her hair and holding a sign reading, "Nudity does not liberate me, and I do not need saving."

Starting with Ahmed, an online campaign was launched, titled "Muslimah Pride Day." The event later grew into a Facebook group called "Muslim Women Against Femen," which had almost 10,000 members as of press time. Muslim women from across the world uploaded pictures of themselves holding up signs stating why they are proud to be Muslim.

"We have finally had enough. We've been progressively marginalized over the years. We've been a subject of stereotypes. Our voice is being taken over," Ahmed said. "This campaign gives Muslim women the chance to say, 'This is who we are, and this is how we want to represent ourselves.' "

Ahmed also said she respected Muslim women's freedom to express themselves. In the case of Tyler, it was showing her naked chest. "That's the form of protest they are entitled to. I'm not like representatives of Femen. I don't like to tell people how to protest or how to dress. I don't want to tell them that they can't walk around topless in Tunisia. They have their own authority to do that, and they do what they want to do," she said.

It's not merely Femen that Ahmed and many other Muslim feminists oppose. "Our campaign is against Femen, islamophobic and racist [activists] who oppose Muslim women, and we try to combat them," she said.

A few days after the Berlin protest, Shevchenko was arrested in Hanover for flashing a delegation of high-ranking German and Russian government officials, including Merkel and Putin.

Speaking to The Prague Post via telephone, Shevchenko said Femen had expected the reaction and the social media activism of Muslim women that followed the International Topless Jihad Day. "We clearly understand what the conditions are in which the Muslim girls are brought up," she said. "To expect them after the first 10 protests to take off their paranjas and rush naked to join Femen, well, we understand that won't happen."

However, she says that, in the long run, Femen and its campaigns will eventually help to transform the Muslim community. "Muslim women will undress more and more. Therefore the reaction of the Islamic world and Islamists will change more and more actively," Shevchenko said.

Anna Shamanska can be reached at


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The mission of the "FEMEN" movement is to create the most favourable conditions for the young women to join up into a social group with the general idea of the mutual support and social responsibility, helping to reveal the talents of each member of the movement.

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