On November 11, French police arrested three members of the feminist organization Femen as they disrupted a ceremony commemorating the end of World War I. Heads of state — including Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, and Vladimir Putin — were gathered in Paris to attend the memorial. As the world leaders drove down the Champs Elysee, a group of topless Femen activists held up signs in front of the Arc de Triomphe. Then, as President Trump’s motorcade passed by, several of the women tried to burst through security barriers and get close to President Trump’s motorcade. At least one of the women managed to get close to Trump’s car. She screamed “fake peacemaker” before French authorities arrested her.
The women were all unarmed, according to French authorities. They were arrested on charges of sexual exhibition. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Femen Was Founded in Ukraine to Protest the Growth of Sex Tourism in the Country
There’s some controversy over who, exactly, founded the group Femen. It’s also not clear exactly when the feminist group got its start. But by 2008, women in Kiev who said they were members of Femen were holding flamboyant protests in the street and calling for the end of prostitution and sex tourism.
At Femen’s early events, the women wore skimpy clothing, high heels, and bright lipstick. But later on, the group started going topless. By 2012, the group was known for holding topless protests in which the demonstrators wrote slogans on their own bodies. The BBC reported that the group’s headquarters, in Kiev, was “adorned with a large pair of sculpted breasts, painted in blue and yellow, the Ukrainian colours.” By this time, Femen had also started going international, and had turned their attention to not just the problems in Ukraine, but perceived injustices all around the world.
2. Femen Calls Itself an International Movement of ‘Brave Topless Female Activists Painted with the Slogans and Crowned with Flowers’
Femen says it was created out of a desire to fight against “the patriarchy” by liberating women’s bodies. The group says that its “weapons” are “bare breasts.” In a manifesto on the Femen website, the group writes,
“In the beginning, there was the body, feeling of the woman’s body, feeling of joy because it is so light and free. Then there was injustice, so sharp that you feel it with your body, it immobilizes the body, hinders its movements, and then you find yourself your body’s hostage. And so you turn your body against this injustice, mobilizing every body’s cell to struggle against the patriarchy and humiliation. You tell the world: Our God is a Woman!”
3. Femen Says They Were Protesting the ‘Criminal’ World Leaders Who Were Gathered in Paris
Femen’s protest in Paris drew attention in large part because of the protester who got so close to President Trump’s car. But the group says that in fact, they weren’t just trying to protest Trump: they were protesting all of the “criminal” and “hypocritical” leaders who gathered in Paris to commemorate the end of World War I. Femen called out President Putin, for defending Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. They slammed Turkey’s Erdogan for attacking the Kurdish people. They attacked Saudi Arabia’s Bin Salman for allegedly assasinating Jamal Khashoggi. And they criticized Israel’s Netanyahu for bombing Gaza.
The group wrote,
“FEMEN believes that restoring world peace with those who are responsible for the ongoing wars is hypocritical.
How could they work for peace?
Does Trump work for peace when he flouts international treaties? No !
Is Putin working for peace in Syria when he defends dictator Bashar Al-Assad? No !
Does Erdogan work for peace when he’s perpetuating Armenian Genocide denial? Or when he keeps attacking Kurdish people? No !
Does Bin Salman work for peace when he’s assassinating Jamal Khashoggi? No !
Does Netanyahu work for peace when bombing Gaza? No !”
4. Femen Took Heat from Many Muslim Women Over Its ‘Topless Jihad’
Back in 2013, a Femen member named Amina Tyler posted a few topless photos of herself on Facebook. Tyler started receiving death threats, and a prominent cleric called for her to be punished according to Shariah law. She went into hiding.
Femen members announced that they would support Tyler’s plight by holding their trademark topless protests. In Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, three women were arrested for ripping off their shirts to reveal their naked torsos, with the words “Breasts Feed Revolution” scrawled across them. Femen members around the world held protests in front of Tunisian embassies and even in front of ordinary mosques. Femen called the protests a “topless jihad.”
Many Muslim women were angered by the so called “topless jihad,” which they said showed Femen’s ignorance, and lack of respect, for Muslim history and values.
5. Femen Raises Money by Selling Sweatshirts and Tank Tops
Femen has its own online store, where it raises money to support its projects by selling a range of different kinds of merchandise. You can check out the Femen store here. The Femen shop sells coffee cups with the Femen logo; it also offers cell phone cases bearing the slogan “religion kills.”
The group known for its topless protests also sells sweatshirts, long-sleeved shirts, and tank tops.