check out our african history of naked protests

If you’re unfamiliar, FEMEN is a Ukraine based feminist group with chapters throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. FEMEN has been making waves for the past year now, through their chosen method of activism: naked protest. While the method has gained popularity and visibility in the mainstream, it has also been problematized by feminists in other parts of the world. This past November, when Egyptian feminist Alia al-Mahdy posted photos of her naked body wrapped in an Egyptian flag, there was a huge debate over the use of the method as an example of European feminists imposing their values onto Third world feminism/Islamic feminism. Sara Mourad has already provided an excellent analysis contextualizing the debates surrounding Alia’s naked body, which is in many ways applicable to the latest manifestation of FEMEN’s tactics in Tunisia, via the naked body of Amina Tyler. Tyler’s naked protest has been the topic du jour particularly because of the call for her to be punished with at least 80 to 100 lashes, or actually death by stoning.

Maroud highlights how many women of color feminists have taken issue with what they consider a clear example of imperial feminism, through importing western understandings of nakedness onto Islamic notions of the body; I want to draw attention to what continues to be overlooked. It seems that no one is emphasizing the fact that these white feminists do not own the method they have chosen to declare as their call to arms against patriarchy. In short, before we discuss how FEMEN is engaging in somewhat problematic dynamics with women of color feminists throughout the Middle East & North Africa region, we should recall that their chosen method of protest is certainly not exclusive to white European feminists. Have we forgotten the naked protests that have taken place in Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya and Uganda for over a century? While the conversations surrounding FEMEN’s growing presence in the MENA region certainly highlight valid arguments about Western feminism and how it relates to other notions of feminism/womanism throughout the globe, what I find to be the greatest example of liberalism is that they’ve managed to convince us that they own the method and in some ways, how we understand our own nakedness.

Nigerian african history with naked protest

What is arguably one of the most powerful manifestations of naked protest over the past century took place during the Women’s War in Eastern Nigeria (1929) and was a significant manifestation of black women’s resistance to colonial authority and racialised Western notions of the body. The significance of the history of this method continues to manifest in naked protests, which have taken place in West, East, and Southern Africa as recently as December 2012. Yet these black women and their unyielding fearlessness to literally put their bodies on the line and stand against multinational oil companies, corruption, and violence, receive little visibility in the mainstream. Sometimes, even in their own countries, their commitment and strength is dismissed as foolish, unfruitful and futile.

In this era of social media and new technologies FEMEN’s tactics are able to gain notice through their chosen mediums of expression and well connected network. The issue is not so much that they use naked protest as a method, but rather that we continue to confuse our disapproval of how their tactics mimic imperial feminism with the method itself. In other words, FEMEN’s expansion into the Middle East and North Africa is likely a glaring example of imperial feminism, but not because of the method. Women of color, specifically throughout the continent have been using naked protest and genital cursing for centuries to express their intolerance and perform resistance. FEMEN’s naked bodies aren’t the only bodies making waves- while their tactics are highly visible, they have yet to shut down an entire oil facility for seven days with the simple threat of disrobing.

African History Story by OKA Contributor: Maryam Kazeem


48 Replies to "Bodies That Matter: The African History of Naked Protest, FEMEN Aside"
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  • Kaveri says:
    April 4, 2013 at 7:07 am

    We have also had women’s groups use this tactic in India. Manipuri women have stripped in front of an Army outpost in protest against the impunity of the army in several cases of rape of Manipuri women in India, carrying a sign saying “Indian Army Rape Us”.

      Jenny Wenhammar says:
      May 23, 2015 at 2:59 am

      And it was shared in media, by FEMEN.

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  • Dia says:
    April 6, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    The loudest voices are always voices that come from Europe or the US. When women activists protested in Pakistan against what the believed to be wrongly interpreted Sharia laws, the police would try to disprese them by ripping there clothes to shame them. Those women stood tall and carried on regardless.. Now that’s what I call badass, not these misogynistic, racist, islamaphobes.

      vespertin says:
      April 9, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      Where’s the racism and misogyni here? Of course they fight patriarchy, and that seems to be the major problem? Blasphemy against the world torturing Christianity and Islam, must be considered a healthy protest. This also is a protest against the penis-gods of the ruling mind, a structural rebellion, not only a gender protest. And neither race nor gender. All human beings are created equal. Exposing nature should be the true shrine, the other ones are constructed for oppression.

      cyberstreets says:
      May 22, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      We cannot separate our actions from the historical context they are in. We can’t transcend history because we say so.

      I think that Dia is commenting on women from overwhelmingly white, Christian European countries disrespecting what is holy/very important to Muslim women of color. Many Muslim feminists embrace the Koran and argue intelligently that the Koran says nothing about Sharia rather that comes down from old cultural customs.

      I’m not a Muslim but as an anti-imperialist feminist (and Christian) I find the Ukrainian group use of the Koran seriously racist and offensive, but no so their use of the Bible. But if they did this action in a feminist space where no one was using the Bible to promote misogyny and there were Christian feminists I’d be a bit offended (but hard to get worked up when in the West so many self-proclaimed Christians are misogynist).

      Jenny Wenhammar says:
      May 23, 2015 at 3:06 am

      The FEMEN activists going out hard against the Koran and Islam were all born muslims or in a community ruled by islamism. The FEMEN activists who were born in Christian communities have reacted against religious oppression in their lives. This is why we rarely see FEMEN actions against Judaism, because still no girl from there has chosen FEMEN activism as a way to break up.

      In the same time FEMEN activists join together in international solidarity with each other, joined by FEMEN culture no matter borders by land or color, which means you will see white girls from Ukraine and other countries stand up together for and with their FEMEN sisters in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran etc.

      cyberstreets says:
      May 24, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      That is good FEMEN is being thoughtful about getting tarred with an anti-Islam brush, that Christo-fascist societies love to use. However, I don’t think having an individualist analysis is enough. That each FEMEN activist as an individual can justify their actions. Just because a sister is born Muslim or in a Muslim family/neighborhood/community does not automatically make “critiquing” the Koran okay, if one takes an anti-imperialist analysis. If one looks at state power and how the state uses religion to oppress women and non-whites, then it makes it a lot harder to make an Muslim critique in a Christo-fascist country like Ukraine or Amerikkka. If one also makes it clear that they are making an anti-State critique, like against government oppression as well, the message is a lot more clear. It does not run the risk of pandering to Islamophobes. And it forces us to answer more clearly “what are our intersectionalities” including those on a state and inter-state level.

      FEMEN’s actions in France protesting the despicable Marie LePen are a wonderfully clear example of all this. Female members of Empire clearly linking misogyny with imperialism in an incredibly fierce way!

      Jenny Wenhammar says:
      May 25, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      Critiquing the Koran or any holy book most always be okay whilst the Koran or any holy book is used to justify and enforce oppression.

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  • vespertin says:
    April 9, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    I will also remind that both India and Africa has had huge female oriented cultures, rich cultures that flourished before the West poisoned it with Christian/Islamic moral-codex. Nature is healthy. what goes on today is flashback to the ideals of Matriarch societies, colors are uninterested, cultural manifestations are crucial. Bring back Mother India and Mother Africa., but don’t blame some avant-guard Westerners to be the first exposed in line, bless them for they bash the real evil put on the world, the heel of the unholy alliance of dominant male-oriented societies and their destructive exploitations and devastating mix of morals. relgion and political dominance, which lead to oppression and explotation everwhere. There is a new wind blowing.

      julietta says:
      April 11, 2013 at 12:19 pm

      I don’t know how familiar you are with India’s history. But you should read Manusmriti first before saying that it was the West which brought all the poison. Hinduism itself consideres certain parts of society less worthy than others-as all major religions.

      niktoevna says:
      May 22, 2015 at 11:39 am

      The Hindu caste was created by indo-european invaders known as the Aryans…. even then, it is a western import

      Jacqui says:
      May 21, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      NIce noble savage trope ya got there son

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  • toofarinsideacar says:
    May 21, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    worth mentioning that Femen is actually a hierarchical org run by/started by a racist sexist man:

      Jenny Wenhammar says:
      May 23, 2015 at 5:47 am

      More worth mentioning is fact:

      FEMEN was started by Anna Hutsol, Alexandra Shevchenko and Oksana Shachko 2008, as a feminist movement in the most patriarchal and corrupt country of Europe. After about a year Oksana took of her sweater in one of their street acts against trafficking, dictatorship, theocracy etc, and Femen topless actions were born. When this way of chocking patriarchy by not being cute and pleasing barbie dolls in their bodies, instead becoming aggressive non pleasant political protesters in those barbie bodies, took media with storm with it’s never before seen concept.

      Naked protests has existed since hundreds and hundreds of years, around the world, with a strong stand in Africa, yet far from only in Africa. But the FEMEN combination in it’s message, background and growth is new to the world, and has in very few years created a new archetype to the human mind, broadening the spectra of possibilities for girls’ behaviors.

      When Anna Hutsol’s close friend Victor Svyatski realized the potential in FEMEN, and also as a man in Ukraine had a completely more extensive tool box than the girls, he gave advices. Which grew in to bossing, and grew in to the movement, as patriarchy grows in to everything in any country/culture loaded with patriarchal patterns. Being born in to this and without knowledge of any other way of living, the process to identify the “inner patriarch” – the patriarch with in the feminist movement – took a while and is well portrayed by Kitty Green in the film Ukraine is not a brothel, the FEMEN story.
      As Alexandra says herself they realized they had a Stockholm syndrome, and when they realized they embarked on the process of finding a way out of it. This way out came through Inna Shevchenko who decide to learn as much as possible from Victor and then move on with FEMEN without him. This was executed very fast when Inna had to run away by the window and seek asylum in France to avoid persecution and long prison time. Since this FEMEN is run by Inna Shevchenko from the headquarter in Paris and she and Victor Svyatski have no contact what so ever, meaning that since the beginning of FEMEN International 2012 there’s no man behind the scenes bossing in FEMEN anymore what so ever. Even if Anna and Victor are still friends and in contact and were both beaten up in Ukraine by secret police before they also got asylum abroad.

      In FEMEN there is a pride over this transformation process, as FEMEN activism in itself is transforming not only the society but very much the activist herself. Any women (and man or lgbt-person) has traces of patriarchal oppression in different proportions in her life and throughout her life to be recognized and confronted, and left behind. Making the feminist and feminism grow, in identifying “the inner patriarch”.
      THIS is worth mentioning.

      And about hierarchy, it’s only partly true as FEMEN is a flat organization where you have more to say the more activism you do, as it’s the activism that is The main focus of FEMEN. But of course to keep activist spread around the world in contact and in line with what is really FEMEN, it takes leaders.

      Now, saying FEMEN is started and run by a sexist man – is a very sexist statement, reducing the girls who are FEMEN in to nothing; like a true sexist.

      Last FEMEN is fighting against racism, fighting for the multicultural society FEMEN is part of with activists around the world, and the reducing of FEMEN in to racism is answered well in this article:

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  • Jenny Wenhammar says:
    May 22, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    This article is so much better about Naked Protests in Africa:

      cyberstreets says:
      May 22, 2015 at 6:07 pm

      Thank you, this article explained the historical context of the photos much better.

      Jenny Wenhammar says:
      May 23, 2015 at 3:28 am

      Thank You for sharing too!

    cyberstreets says:
    May 22, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    Here is a righteous action by FEMEN. They are protesting a French woman fascist in France. Brave and fierce European women attacking a powerful French female fascist.

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  • elizabeth31 says:
    May 24, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    They never believe me when I say we did it first. Because there is no “evidence”. The evidence they want is the fanfare and joy that comes with celebrating the Eurocentric. Fortunately, I believe there is more power in what we do–leading, cultivating, showing the way. We have been this way musically, artistically, spiritually, educationally etc from the beginning of time. And anyone who truly wishes to gain Knowledge will run into this fact undeniably. Thank you so much for this article!

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