Topless Jihad: baring all, in this new age of protest

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Two fundamentalist preachers were discussing the question of "whether wives should be beaten or not" when the activists jumped on to the stage on Saturday evening. One had the slogan "No one subjugates me" inked across her torso. The other bore the words "I am my own prophet."

Topless Jihad: baring all, in this new age of protest

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Femen is a feminist protest group founded in Ukraine in 2008. The group is now based in Paris. The organisation became internationally known for organising controversial topless protests against sex tourism, religious institutions, sexism, homophobia and other social, national and international topics.

Topless Jihad: baring all, in this new age of protest

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Femen activists, chained to a cross, protest against a reform of the country's abortion law at the Almudena Cathedra on 13 June in Madrid, Spain. Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Topless Jihad: baring all, in this new age of protest

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Femen activists disturb the Nina Ricci show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2014 on 26 September 2013 in Paris, France. Photo: Dominique Charriau/Getty Images

Topless Jihad: baring all, in this new age of protest

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A Femen protester demonstrates against the scheduled visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin moments before she was detained by police near the Parliament building on 17 February in Budapest, Hungary. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Topless Jihad: baring all, in this new age of protest

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Photo: snapshot-photography/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Topless Jihad: baring all, in this new age of protest

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Femen in Paris on 17 January 2015 when thousands of people walked together from Place de la Bastille to Place de l'Opera to celebrate the mark the 40th anniversary of the legalisation of abortion in France which began in 1975. Photo: Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

TOPLESS JIHAD

Topless Jihad: baring all, in this new age of protest

Anna Verghese @annavergh

It was a conference that was controversial from the outset - but last week, a Muslim conference in Paris hit the headlines when two female protestors charged onto the stage topless.

Their tool of protest? Their bodies, which had slogans painted across them that read, "No one can enslave me, no one can possess me, I am my own Prophet." They also shouted slogans in Arabic and French before being forcibly removed from the stage by the men present.

The women belong to feminist group Femen, and they've been part of the public conversation for the past couple of years. That they'd take exception to this conference is unsurprising: reports suggest that it was held to discuss the role of women in Islam, but included as guests men - including fundamental leaders like Abu Anas Nader - who are known to preach about women's submission and the legitimisation of marital rape.

Femen weren't the only protestors. In the run-up to the event there was serious outcry, and even an online petition calling for its cancellation. Yet, it wasn't till Femen's trademark form of protest that the subject hit mainstream conversation.

Many saw this conference as an 'enslavement event' and an outright sexist act in the guise of religion. Femen's own website calls these Muslim preachers 'misogynist disciples of Allah,' and say it was their duty to interrupt the event and 'let a scream of freedom be heard in the middle of their submission lessons.'

Femen aren't popular with everyone, feminists included. But while debate rages over whether they have ceded agency by objectifying themselves the way they've always been objectified by others, there's no doubt that Femen's radical form of protest is hard to ignore.

These photographs - taken at different times over the last few years at Femen protests around the world - are a stark reminder of the battles still to be fought for women, and how a handful of women are fighting them in their own unique way.

Anna Verghese

Anna Verghese @annavergh