Inna Shevchenko set up the group in Paris in 2012 after she was arrested in Ukraine following political protests. She recently obtained political refugee status in France.
The group engages in publicity stunts to draw attention to some issues affecting women and has targeted political leaders such as Vladimir Putin as well as aspects of muslim and catholic religious practices or teachings.
The group is supported by some Feminists, disliked by others.
On 20 December, witnesses say a bare-breasted Femen activist wearing a blue veil walked up to the altar of the famous Madeleine church in Paris where she then imitated an abortion, left a calf’s liver on the floor to represent a fœtus and then urinated, in front of about a dozen people, while a choir was rehearsing for Christmas.
She then left the church without saying anything. On her chest was written '344 Salopes', a reference to a 1971 pro abortion slogan in France. On her bare back were the words «Christmas is cancelled ».
The previous day there had been a similar such incident in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.
A complaint was lodged with the police by Bruno Horaist, the church priest, but he says so far there has been no action.
Opposition UMP member of Parliament Valérie Boyer says she is affronted by the « incredible silence » of Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has responsibility for matters touching on religions in France.
Boyer writes in her blog dated 30 December « It is curious to note the lack of information on the Femen website, leading one to think that it could be a front for undeclared political interest groups. »
She calls on the minister to explain how the group is funded, by whom, what income the members of the group receive and « particularly whether they receive any welfare payments ».
« In a country which is currently troubled by religious issues we cannot allow such a movement to thrive without knowing anything about its origins » Boyer continues.
Paris City Hall denies rumours that it funds the group and denounced the Madeleine action as a « provocation ».
A former member of Femen, the Tunisian activist Amina, told the Huffington Post website that, before leaving the group, she had frequently asked Inna Shevchenko how the group was funded but had never received a clear answer.
Shevchenko insists group members to not receive welfare benefits. She says she is currently supporting herself using the advance payment received for a forthcoming book, and is about to submit paperwork to the social security offices to apply for income support payments.