Twenty-first century, my foot. Make that my bare foot. Amina Tyler, a 19-year old Tunisian, recently posted topless photos of herself on Facebook. The first image shows Amina kicking back with a book and a smoke, Arabic script across her torso declares, “My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honor”.
Another shows her in aggressive stance, “F*** your morals” written across her chest: activist behavior that got a fatwa issued on her pretty head.
Last February, Tyler founded a Tunisian outpost of feminist movement FEMEN, Ukrainian-based activists who gained notoriety protesting against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italy’s octogenarian playboy politico, Silvio Berlusconi. The group’s now turning its sights on the Middle East.
Tyler told a Tunisian newspaper that she posted these pictures to protest gender inequality laws being imposed by the Ennahda ruling party.
Tunisian imam Adel Almi, chair of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, allegedly proclaimed that Tyler “deserves to be whipped or stoned to death”.
Rumors circulated saying that Tyler was taken by her parents to a psychiatric hospital in Tunis, but women’s rights activist Bouchra Bel Haj Hmida confirmed she was home safe with her family.
Millions of Arab women support protests for gender equality.
Women played a pivotal role in the Arab uprisings, yet the political beneficiary of change appears to be the rise of conservative Islamic movements, threatening the fragile rights of Arab women.
Last August, a Tunisian parliamentary panel defined a woman as “a complement with the man in the family and an associate to the man in the development of the country,” and not an equal.
Outrage and debate ensued. American-Tunisian activist Wafa Ben Hassine described this on her blog as robbing “from the potential of Tunisian women – both within society and within themselves.”
“Viva Topless Jihad, there will be million Aminas! Our breasts are more dangerous than your stones.”
In reaction, FEMEN declared April 4 International Topless Jihad Day, urging supporters to rally topless outside Tunisian embassies across the world and send topless pictures of themselves to the authorities. They released a statement on their social media outlets stating:
“On 4 April, we will remind the fanatics and the world that the real epidemic and disaster that must be challenged is misogyny – Islamic or otherwise… (This is the) beginning of a new, genuine Arab Spring, after which true freedom, freedom without mullahs and caliphs, will come to Tunisia!”
International demonstrations broke out. Police dragged FEMEN members from a Kiev mosque; bare-chested demonstrators protested in front of Milan’s Tunisian consulate; and Paris activists burnt salafists flags.
The initiative was embraced by naked Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, who describes her postings as a “scream against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy”.
In a thoughtful editorial on New Statesman, writer Bim Adewunmi says:
“Femen’s imperialist ‘one size fits all’ attitude shows a deafening inconsistency in their own ideology: “Women!” they seem to be saying. “Your bodies are your own – do with them what you will! Except you over there in the headscarf. You should be topless.” It can’t work like that. It won’t work like that. It simply doesn’t work like that.”
Images from FEMEN- Tunisia