My Body is My Own and Not the Source of Anyone's Honour: Free Amina Campaign Featured

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The black clouds of inequality rained hard last week in Tunisia, where it is reported that a 19 year old woman has been forcibly admitted into a psychiatric hospital. Her crime? Fraternising with the concept of female liberation in a culture which still abhorrently belies the rights of women, prohibiting their equal existence alongside the men of their country and circumscribing them to rigidly defined codes of conduct. Amina, apparently inspired by members of Femen (the 'radical' Ukranian feminist organisation notorious for their utilisation of bare breasts to fight for their beliefs) posted a series of topless photographs on the Internet with statements such as, ‘My Body is My Own and Not the Source of Anyone's Honour’ written across them in Arabic.

Breasts are powerful things. Those are powerful statements. Unfortunately, scribble your phone number on your tits in this country, you'll inevitably get a phone call or two. Bravely take the time to pen a defiant declaration against cultural subordination in the Middle East and you are thrown into a hospital for the mentally unstable.

However, my position on female liberation is not the raisin d'être of this article and while I am a firm supporter of feminism's endeavours to reclaim our bodies, particularly in a culture which unashamedly views them as nothing more than male possessions, I am also disturbed at the notion of a teenage girl becoming a martyr for the movement. Amina's disappearance was followed by calls from the Salafi Islamic preacher Almi Adel, who serves as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Tunisia, for her actions to be punished by lashings (and I don't mean of ginger beer and jam). He even argued that Amina was guilty of inciting an ‘"epidemic" that's given ideas to other women’ (God help us!) and due to the 'severity' of what she had done, is actually deserving of the death penalty; a statement so absurd my western brain struggles to comprehend it.

However, amidst the obvious and immediate outrage shared by civilians and famous names alike (Richard Dawkins has publicly supported the 'free Amina' petition), I am left with a profound feeling of unease towards a movement; one irrefutably aware the dangerous implications Amina's actions would have, yet one which would allow a young woman to risk her life in spite of such potentially fatal consequences. With so much worldwide hearsay surrounding Amina's current situation it would be wrong for me to passionately condemn Fenem's role in the unfolding events, but the incident does raise questions about cultural accountability.

While Fenem's place of conception, the Ukraine, is not home to a thriving society of equality, the members of the organisation can not deny their knowledge of Tunisia’s almost unrivalled position as one of the worlds most dangerous and oppressive cultures.

Femen leader Inna Shevchenko has admitted to being in direct phone contact with Amina right up until her disappearance, which leads me to question how much responsibility falls at the feet of the organization. A 19 year old woman single handedly takes to the internet to defy her country's staunchly oppressive code; who would not have guessed at the consequences? Although I recognize that even my own mother could not have silenced my opinion-wielding 19 year old self, I can’t help but focus on the dubious nature of the guidance provided by Femen and it sends me cold to think of the possibility that this young woman has been used as a disposable pawn to assist in the organizations self promotion.  Femen will survive long after Amina’s fate has been decided and while the events of the last two weeks have gained both the movement and the individual worldwide coverage, to what extent will Amina’s actions have aided the cause and at what cost? 

Feminism is not about the self promotion of individual women or organizations; it is about protecting the rights of all women in a patriarchal world; something which cannot be achieved at the same rate or by the same methods in the Middle East as it would be in the Western world.

Don't get me wrong; I wholeheartedly support their fight; it’s just difficult for me to understand why breasts are being used to desexualise women in Middle Eastern countries where such acts are far more dangerous than they are provocative. Of course one can argue that Amina's actions have indeed ignited world wide discourse on the subject of female subordination rife within the Middle East and of course, as with any societal/cultural struggle there must often be colossal human sacrifice in the name of progress (Emily Davidson anyone?), but in the battle against patriarchy, is the use of breasts simply counterproductive?

Stoking the fires of discourse is important but is it worth it at the cost of igniting cultural and religious outcry in a country where the results are inevitably dangerous for its voiceless female population? Is one young woman's incarceration or even death going to aid the cause or just scare her fellow countrywomen into further submission?

I truly hope Amina's story does not provide the answer.

International Day to Defend Amina

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