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Why topless protesters will hound Islamic leaders

By Inna Shevchenko, special to CNN
April 22, 2013 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
(File photo) Topless activists of the women's rights group Femen in Rio de Janeiro on February 8, 2013.
(File photo) Topless activists of the women's rights group Femen in Rio de Janeiro on February 8, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shevchenko: Femen have been waging a campaign of resistance to the patriarchy
  • She says dictatorship is used as a tool for enslaving women
  • Religion and the church have overseen the spiritual enslavement of women, she says

Editor's note: Inna Shevchenko is one of the leaders of international movement Femen, which uses topless protest as a way to raise the profile of women's rights. She says Islamist leaders enslave women by asserting control over their sexuality -- but in a counter-argument, freelance writer Bim Adewunmi says Femen's attitude is naive and foolish at best.

(CNN) -- For the past five years now, we here at the international women's movement Femen have been waging an active campaign of resistance to the patriarchy in various corners of the world.

We have been bringing the world the simple idea of women's liberation by means of sexual emancipation as expressed in highly visible acts of political protest. We believe that the enslavement of women began with the enslavement of their sexuality, so we therefore consider it legitimate to use their liberated sexuality as a symbol of women's worldwide liberation.

We divide the patriarchy confronting us into three basic parts. First, dictatorship, as a tool for enslaving women. For this reason we are a democratic movement.

Inna Shevchenko
Inna Shevchenko

The second part of the system consists of religion and the church, which have overseen the spiritual enslavement of women. For this reason Femen is an atheistic group motivated by secularism and humanism.

Read more: Sexualized Femen protest 'naive and foolish at best'

The third element of the patriarchy is the sex industry, which has been responsible for women's sexual servitude and is in fact the most ancient form of female slavery. For this reason, then, Femen sees sexuality as the organon and canon of women's freedom. Hence, our three basic postulates are democracy, atheism, and sexuality.

From what we have related above, naturally the most hated institutions are those that stand for one of these three things or a mixture of them. The most obvious illustration of the patriarchy is Islamic theocracy, a symbiosis of political and religious dictatorship.

In theocratic states, the position of women is horrifying and hopeless. We direct our fiercest criticism to such countries, and work in that part of the world is what most occupies our minds.

A clear example of the "Shariazation" under way in the Middle East and North Africa is what our activist Amina Tyler has gone through. For having published in Facebook topless pictures of herself with "F*** Your Morals" written on her body, Amina suffered severe criticism and death threats, and was kidnapped, beaten, and subjected to humiliating treatment.

Read more: Topless feminist protesters show what they're made of

This young woman claims her own family took her far outside the confines of the city in which she lived to spend several weeks in a village unknown to her. There, shut up inside a house, she underwent a forced "Islamization:" they made her read the Quran and took her every day to see an imam. Amina's family also declared her insane and compelled her to ingest large doses of medication.

"Because I was taking so many pills, I was sleeping all the time," Amina told me. "And once I woke up, I understood that I didn't remember anything."

Amina finally managed to escape. A few hours after Femen activists attacked the president of Tunisia shouting "Where is Amina?" I received a phone call: "Inna, this is Amina speaking! I've escaped from my family!"

After a long conversation about what she had gone through during her period of forced isolation, I asked her whether she thought it best for her safety to leave Tunisia for a while. Amina answered that she would not leave Tunisia until she had carried out a topless protest with other Tunisian girls who had already established contact with her.

Our understanding of Islamism, according to what we have learned fighting against it, tells us that our criticism of it is valid and holds out much hope for the future.

At the heart of Islamism lies the enslavement of women based on control over their sexuality. The hijab is at the same time both a symbol and a tool of this enslavement.

A mass sexual protest inspired by our example will serve as the first step toward women's recovering their own nature and will be a turning point, sparking the dissolution of the Sharia and the return, to women, of control over the conditions of her existence, from the sexual to the political.

I hereby both promise and threaten to deploy an entire network of Femen activists in Arab countries. We will hound Islamic leaders across the globe, subjecting them to desolating criticism. We intend to hound spiritual leaders who are personally responsible for mistreating women.

A million Aminas will arise! And freedom, at last, will dawn!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Inna Shevchenko.

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