Tag Archives: Spain

It’s not easy being green

 

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AS ANTI-EUROPE parties try to convince the Dutch that they are better off alone and they should abandon the sinking ship that is the Euro, the country’s Green party GreenLeft is trying to do the exact opposite: portraying the EU as an inadmissible part of daily life not only today, but for generations to come. On national television, the GreenLeft Member of Parliament Jesse Klaver used examples from a nineties children show around an acrobat and a clown to stress the importance of the EU. Less visible, but with similar ambitions for The Netherlands and Europe, Hannah Odenthal (26) is taking to the streets convincing the Dutch not just to vote, but to vote for the Greens. In an interview with Pandeia, she explains why and how she’s spreading this message.

“To answer your question of why I do what I do, I believe that all of us are Europe, as we enjoy its benefits every day. Europe stands for peace, progress, and renewal. Europe means freedom: we can live, travel, study, and vote, anywhere in the European Union. However, not everyone can benefit from the possibilities given by Europe to millions of people every day. Therefore, we have to work together to create a Europe in which no one gets left behind.”

Green Party 1What is your role/function in the Green Party’s campaign?

“I am indirectly involved in the campaign, as my job is to support the Secretary General of the European Green Party. In addition to supporting her work and making sure she is in the right place at the right time to speak to political actors and stake holders, my work varies from day to day. For example, last weekend our team travelled to Berlin for the kick-off of the ‘hot phase’ of the Common Green European campaign, where I was asked to do voice-overs for videos to introduce our speakers. While this is not usually part of my role, it reflects the variety of tasks that makes the job and the entire campaign exciting.”

Past elections have not resulted in high turnouts. How do you ‘sell’ Europe in general and the Green Party in particular to the voters? What is the Green Party’s strategy?

“Despite the best intentions in creating a European-level political sphere, in the European elections, people vote on a national level and not on a European level. They vote for national parties, often from a national perspective. As the European Green Party only operates at a European level, the broad part of actual campaigning falls to the 33 Green parties across the EU. We have advocated for European-wide lists to move towards true European politics, and we have had common campaigns since 2004. We always make sure that there are transnational elements such as common visuals, that are part of our European campaigns.

“Part of showing voters what we stand for, is our common manifesto, which is drafted and adopted by EGP member parties from within the European Union. Our manifesto is a signal of their cooperation and unity, and it is a basis for pushing forward our common Green agenda on the European level. Our manifestos of the past ten years can be found here:

http://europeangreens.eu/content/egp-manifesto.”
What is the Green Party’s position in the European Parliament?

“The European Green Party does not have a position in the European Parliament itself. We are represented in the parliament by the Greens/European Free Alliance, of which the Greens are a part. With 58 members from both Green parties, independents and regionalist parties, Greens/EFA is the fourth largest political group in the European Parliament. We are a strong, cohesive group that have been very successful in pushing environmental issues, digital rights, food and fishing, LGBT rights, fair economic policies, the rights of migrants, and many other issues, to the front of the EU’s agenda.”

Green Party 3 The Green parties across Europe play very different roles in national politics. Can you elaborate on these  different backgrounds, and on how these are united into one mutual, pan-European party?

“The Greens are a diverse family across the EU. While each party shares strong green values (such as environmentalism,  democracy, and a commitment to social justice and fairness). However, across Europe each Green party is different, depending on  many different factors such as resources, the national context, the size of their membership, how developed the Green movement  in their areas are. In Germany and France for instance, there are strong, well known Green movements where their respective  parties are important actors on the political sphere. In Spain, the youngest Green party has a different background and impact and  is focused on both pushing their political agenda and building recognition across the country. Because of national politics, some  parties have a more cautious approach to Europe, while some are very eager advocates for closer EU ties. Some member states  have Green parties that work very effectively in an environmental-grassroots lobbying model. In other countries, the Greens are  in government and have a clear impact on national legislation. There is no set rule.”

What are the Green party’s plans for the future?

“Over the next five years, we have an ambitious agenda to show that Europe must and can do better.

With rising unemployment (especially for young people), huge strains on public finances, food scandals undermining consumer confidence, a dead-end energy policy that ignores the urgent issue of climate change, and democracy and rights under attack in some EU countries, Europe needs a change of direction.

“The multiple crises facing Europe – economic, social, environmental, democratic – require action in all European policy fields. In a globalised world, the challenges transcend borders; so do the solutions. Isolation and nationalism cannot be the answer, neither can old policies and austerity measures.

“The Greens are working towards a comprehensive transformation for Europe, that allows everyone to live a good life based on economic, social and environmental sustainability. We want to deliver millions of green jobs, ambitious climate protection, health and social justice. The Europe we want is a Europe of solidarity and well-being; a Europe that acts for equal opportunities and fundamental rights; a transparent Europe that people can trust; a Europe that promotes cultural diversity and gives hope to youth; a truly democratic Europe in which citizens have a say.”

Words: Lisanne Oldekamp

Pictures courtesy of European Green Party

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Spanish abortion law: step back in time

The Spanish conservative government led by Mariano Rajoy has recently decided to reform the national abortion law. In light of the permanently ongoing pro-life or pro-choice debate, Adriana Díaz Martín-Zamorano analyses the status quo of abortion in Spain as well as the possible consequences that could emerge from the controversial new legislation.

When a Spanish woman was pregnant in 1980 and wanted to have an abortion she would face two options: travel abroad to countries which allowed abortion, such as the United Kingdom, or have a secret abortion. Thirty years later, in 2010, the government passed legislation that allowed a woman to have an abortion in Spain with the Ley de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva e Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo (Law of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy). But the current ruling conservative party, Partido Popular (PP), led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has recently decided to take a step back in time in terms of women’s rights and amend this legislation.

Abortion as a crime
In most European countries abortion is a right. 20 out of the 28 Member States of the EU, including Germany, France, The Netherlands, Greece or Italy, allow women to legally abort their pregnancy without providing any specific reason within a certain limited amount of time –usually between the 12th and the 14th  weeks of pregnancy. Since 2010, that has also been the case in Spain, but the national Council of Ministers approved on the 20th December of 2013 a new system. Ley para la Protección de la Vida del Concebido y de los Derechos de la Mujer Embarazada (Law for the Protection of Life of the Conceived and the Rights of the Pregnant Woman), criminalises abortion, excluding a couple of scenarios such as rape and risk to the woman’s health. In addition, this ‘severe risk’ for the woman’s health has to be recognised by a medical report signed by two different doctors –up until now only one signature was required. Furthermore, the signatory can’t perform the abortion or even work in the same clinic where the procedure would take place.

Right now, only five countries in the EU – Poland, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Poland – have similar legislation on abortion. In fact, in the UK and Cyprus the range measures are way wider than the new amended Spanish law and include significant criteria, such as fetal deformation, which is reflected in the current abortion legislation in Spain and would be eliminated by the changes. Nevertheless, in other Member States, like Malta or Ireland, abortion is even more restricted. For instance, in Malta abortion is banned and Ireland has only reformed its abortion law recently in order to include suicide risk as a factor. The conservative decision creates further distance between Spain and its neighbouring countries while turning it into the only state in the EU that has carried out a structural reform of its abortion law to harden its conditions in the recent years.

A step back in women’s rights that enhances social and economic inequality
The truth is that strict rules around abortion did not seem odd or outdated during the Spanish transition to democracy from Franco’s dictatorship, but these measures now seem reactionary in an established democracy: a trip back in a time machine and a clear step back in women’s rights. Furthermore, the draft law does not only represent a symbolic decrease in rights, it can also have highly negative social consequences and enhance inequality in economic terms. If the parliamentary procedure approves the reform, Spanish women who need or want to have an abortion will have to travel to countries where abortion is legal or have a secret abortion in Spain. While the first possibility is strictly related to personal income thus enhancing economic inequalities, since not everyone can afford travelling abroad to go through such process; the alternative choice is often performed under dangerous conditions and consequently threatens women’s lives.

Pro-life or pro-choice?
In light of the ongoing abortion debate –pro-life or pro-choice-, what is clear is that the focus of the abortion reform is on the foetus to be born ahead of the woman’s right to choose. The conservative Spanish Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who has launched the controversial law, claimed that ‘we can’t make the life of a foetus to be born depend on a woman’s will’. The Minister also understands that illegal abortions will have penal consequences for the doctor and not for the woman by justifying that woman is a ‘victim’ of abortion, an argument that has been labelled by some feminist groups as ‘paternalist’. Gallardón also defends that the main reason this new law has been carried out is mainly to fulfil ‘an electoral commitment’.

The public reaction towards the new legislation has been polarised. On the one hand, Christian institutions, such as the Spanish Episcopal Conference, presided by Madrid’s archbishop, Antonio María Rouco Varela, have expressed their satisfaction for the ‘improvement’ in the abortion law because it is important to ‘support both in theory and in practice the right to life’. On the other hand, several feminist associations have successfully organised demonstrations in the largest Spanish cities, like Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, as well as in European cities, such as London, Dublin and Lisbon, calling for the dropping of the abortion draft. Last week Madrid’s Feminist Movement hosted a demonstration attended by around 15,000 citizens holding rue and parsley branches up in their hands –two plants traditionally used to interrupt pregnancy. The spokesperson of Madrid’s Feminist Movement, Laura Montero, declared to the press agency Efe that the greatest problem is that ‘women who don’t have money are condemned to insecure abortion which can lead them to death’. The opposition to the reform has not only been heard in the streets, but also on a political level: critical voices from the main opposition party, Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), rejected motions presented from local governments –even some ruled by the conservative party- and fierce debates in the European Parliament (EP) have divided left-wing and liberal parties against right-wing and Eurosceptic parties.

The unpopularity of the abortion reform shows that it would be appropriate for the Spanish government to reconsider the viability of carrying out such restrictive measures in the 21st century. However, for the moment, the Minister of Justice has given ‘his word’ that protests will not prevent his commitment to fulfil the electoral programme in terms of regulating the rights of pregnant women and the child to be born.

Spanish exile: future beyond the borders

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The future for the youth of Spain is one of the darkest in Europe. As youth emigration hits record levels Aida Pelaez explains the current difficulties that young Spaniards have to go through on a day to day basis.

“In the current situation I think it would be a mistake to return to Spain”

“The chances of emancipation are almost nil, so you make up your mind and hop on a plane”

“When you leave because there is no other choice you feel a little exiled”

These are direct quotes from young Spanish emigrants who have told their stories on camera for the future documentary “Spanish Exile”.  Rubén Hornillo is a young Spanish filmmaker and is living and working in Los Angeles. His documentary “Spanish Exile” will show the first-hand testimonies of young Spanish people who have seen themselves been forced to emigrate because of the economic crisis; showing the reality of a country that is seeing its qualified and educated youth leaving the country because of the lack of possibilities.

Spain faces one of the highest rates of emigration in the recent decades of its history, but rather than focusing on the number of migrations, different movements were born in the country to express their preoccupation and outrage about the situation and reasons for the exodus of young Spaniards. Juventud sin futuro (youth without future), La Marea Granate (the maroon tide), No nos vamos nos echan (We are not leaving, they kick us out); are the names of these movements.

Youth without future was born in 2011. Their slogan: “without a house, without a job, without fear” summarizes the demands of this organization whose purpose is to demonstrate the precarious situation of youth in the labour, educational and social fields.

“We are not leaving, they kick us out” is another a movement who denounces the precarious situation of Spanish youth, but it is focused on emigration; they defined Spain as “No country for young men”. This initiative criticises the forced exile of the precarious Spanish youth; their calls have gone beyond the Spanish borders by demonstrations that have taken place in different cities of the world such as Rome or London. The young Spaniards who live there as immigrants have shown their dissatisfaction with their own country that has failed to provide them a future.

The most recent platform  is “The Maroon Tide”, named by the color of the passport as a symbol of forced migration it is a transnational movement formed by emigrants from Spain who struggle from outside the Spanish borders against the causes that have led to the economic and social crisis which in turn caused them to migrate.

All these platforms seek the reasons for the Spanish youth exodus, but they are mostly trying to give a voice to all the young people who have seen the need to emigrate from Spain to look for work possibilities. But, on the other side of the table, the authorities of the country have not shown much concern about youth emigration. The government has not presented a clear answer for the increasing rates of emigration of skilled labour among the youth. The Spanish General Secretary of Immigration and Emigration, Marina del Corral, explained last November the reasons for the emigration of the younger part of Spanish society; she mentioned the economic crisis, but she also emphasised the adventurous spirit of young people as a reason for their migration.

The different movements concerned about forced migration, the stories of Spanish emigrants in foreign countries narrated in first person, show a different reality that contradicts the adventurous spirit expressed by the Government as a cause for migration. They point at the search for an sustainable present and future which their own country has not been able to provide them with; the crisis has made them exiles.

Oil Hungry: Spanish Government Plan Controversial Drill in Canaries

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The global energy company Repsol has finally obtained permission to begin drilling for oil next May near the Canary Islands, amidst protests and failed attempts to halt the project. Victoria Medina assesses the Canary Islands government’s referendum request to ask citizens whether they approve or reject the initiative.  

There has been nothing but controversy since the Spanish Conservative Party led by Mariano Rajoy announced it would be allowing Repsol to explore the seabed in hopes of finding oil, less than 70 kilometers from the coasts off the Canary Islands. Politicians and experts have warned of the devastating effects oil spill could have on the Islands economy and how it would also be harmful to the rich wildlife that inhabits the area.

Plans to extract oil were first announced in 2001 when then president, José María Aznar, also  Conservative, put forward a motion to claim the valuable fuel that allegedly lies underground between the Islands and the African continent. Repsol was to be the sole beneficiary and the only company that would have the right to drill for oil, but the Canary government was quick in appealing to the Supreme Court and achieved a suspension due to the inexistence of an environmental impact report.

More than a decade later and still without the pertinent report the Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism, José Manuel Soria, born and raised in Gran Canaria, reopened the case and set the final date. Years of dispute will end in less than three months when the work finally begins without a general consensus.

Referendum proposal
The Canary Islands has the highest rate of unemployment in Spain, 33% versus the nations average of 26% that equates to a total of more than 4.800.000 people. Furthermore, the seven Islands are one of the most attractive holiday destinations in Europe and depend enormously on the tourism industry to sustain their unsteady economy. According to the Canarian Institute of Statistics (ISTAC) in 2013 more than 12 million tourists visited, one million more than the previous year.

The regions president, Paulino Rivero, recently argued during an interview on the public news channel ’24 Horas’ that he had followed proper procedure when presenting the Spanish president Mariano Rajoy with his plans to summon a referendum. He also defended his actions against claims issued by Soria stating it was illegal to request such a referendum.

On the same news channel and during the same program aired on the 12th of February, ex TV presenter Cristina García Ramos shed light on the existing dilemma between oil and tourism. She said it would be significant to control such an energy resource but “at what cost” would it come if it meant serious environmental issues and conflict.

According to the Spanish Constitution, article 92.1, “political decisions of special importance may be referred to a consultative referendum of all citizens”. However, it is still unclear whether the Canarian population will have a say about the matter.

The population is divided, as there are still those who believe oil drilling could generate thousands of jobs for the unemployed. Repsol claimed in 2012 that it would create 5.000 jobs, but experts say that these would only be for the extremely qualified and would not help significantly reduce the local unemployment statistics.

A national issue
The Balearic Islands have also been dragged into the spotlight regarding the same issue since the government decided to search for oil near their coasts using seismic tests. This has been met with protests that it could affect the fishing industry and eventually result in an environmental hazard if any oil were to spill into the ocean. Both national authorities and oil companies say that this rejection is based on a “profound lack of understanding” and that there is no risk involved.

The Spanish government long ago set out to reduce its oil dependency that currently generates the importation of 1.4 million barrels of oil a day to satisfy the high demand of the product. Furthermore, Soria has stated this week before the Senate that if the Canarian Islands proved to be rich in oil it would mean a 10% reduction of all imports from other countries. Environmentalists, however argue that there are far more valuable energy sources that are not being exploited to their maximum potential, such as solar energy and wind power amongst the many renewable and clean resources that the islands have to offer.

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Catalonia, Corruption and Healthcare: Spanish Fast News

Ana Escaso analyses an eventful week’s news in Spain, with the nation going through health care system cuts, the Catalan bid for independence and one of the most long-lasting newspaper director’s dismissal due to government pressure. 

Referendum in Catalonia
On the 16th of January, the Parliament of Catalonia suggested a law proposition to Spanish Congress of Deputies with the aim of convening a referendum asking Catalan citizens for independence. The chosen date is the 9th of November and the questions are: Do you want Catalonia be considered as state? Do you want this state be independent?

Both Mariano Rajoy’s administration and the socialist opposition party have declared this referendum unconstitutional. The president of Catalonia, Artur Mas, has confirmed this referendum will take place but only if the Spanish government authorizes it.

According to El Pais, what is hidden under this provoking suggestion is a political manoeuvre to force the Spanish government to sit at the table and negotiate. The Catalan government then pretends to champion self-government through highlighting the current conditions and financial issues. However, the political debate has been lit up by  ‘blackmails’ that have been shot from Madrid to Barcelona and vice verse; meanwhile, the Catalan society is more entrenched than ever in their aims to head towards independence. Although European Parliament has considered it a national issue, an independent state of Catalonia would be immediately expelled from the European Union and be forced to reapply.

Spanish princess Infanta Cristina
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The youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos has been summoned by judge Jose Castro to testify in court over accusations of fraud and money-laundering, as part of  the Noos case in which her husband is involved and also accused. The court date is next 8th of March.

Infanta Cristina’s economic activity has been monitored for eight months to prove that there is enough evidence to charge her. As it is detailed, there are indications that the Princess was clearly aware that Aizoon, the company she half shares with her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, “must serve as scaffolding for the commission of tax offenses” and made ​​fraudulent charges with company funds, El Periodico reports.

The Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, could have also been involved in Urdagarin’s business and could be called to testify shortly.

Anti abortion law reform
The same minister, Gallardon reformed Spanish abortion law last December. Free abortion is illegal as it was 30 years ago in Spain. This law can protect only cases of foetal anomalies that might damage women physically.

From Paris to Brussels, passing by Strasbourg, protests against Spanish abortion reforms are spreading out. Thousands of people gathered in front of the Spanish embassy in Belgium last Wednesday to protest and demand the freedom of decision for women.

As Eldiario.es reports, the Belgium and Spanish Socialist party with other organizations assembled the demonstration in which several members of the European Parliament participated expressing the rejection against abortion reform.

F.C. Barcelona’s scandal

Corruption has also reached the sporting spheres. The president of Sevilla F.C., Jose Maria Del Nido, was condemned 7 years in prison in 2011 and this time the president of F.C. Barcelona, Sandro Rosell, has been pushed to resign himself due to presumed tax irregularities in Barcelona player Neymar’s signing.

Rosell declared in his last news conference “an unfair and reckless accusation of misappropriation has resulted in a lawsuit against me in the High Court. From the beginning I said that the signing of Neymar Junior is correct and that recruitment has caused despair and envy of some of our adversaries”, news website Libertad Digital reports. However, Rosell confirmed his resignation to not damage the image of the Club.

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Healthcare system cuts

Recently, the British Medical Journal has published an article on Spanish healthcare system reforms warning about the impact of its negative effects on Spanish society. The major changes made by the Spanish government are excluding undocumented immigrants from free health services or increasing the cost of access to certain medicines, as well as prosthetics and ambulance service.

British researchers pay special attention to Madrid and Catalonia, where “hospitals are being privatized, waiting time has increased, emergency services have been reduced and there are fewer surgical procedures”, news website El Confidencial showcases.

El Mundo is orphaned
The director of El Mundo, Pedro J. Ramirez, has accused the Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, of forcing his dismissal. As Ramirez explained in his farewell speech to the newspaper’s staff, the chief executive has become the newspaper and himself “on his opponents, perhaps enemies”.

After 33 years as director of one of the biggest Spanish national newspapers, El mundo, which was founded by him, journalist Ignacio Escolar assesses the reasons why Pedro J. has been dismissed: the media company has terrifying losses that any editor can’t afford; secondly, pressures from government spheres — which disagree with the newspaper editorial line — have taken advantage of the economic weakness of El Mundo to depose the director.

Freedom behind the steering wheel

The Saudi movement ‘Woman2Drive’ has recently taken to social media as intensely as they will hit the roads on the 28th of December. The upcoming protest against the Saudi authority’s female driving ban, protests for women’s rights to drive. Ana Escaso Moreno translates Andreyna Valera’s article assessing the movement’s achievements alongside other struggles of Saudi Arabian women.

Worldwide, activists are supporting them; they are presented on social networks and internet in many different ways; they are even the reason Bob Marley’s song No woman no cry became No woman no drive – a viral video by a group of students seen more than 11 million times. The movement ‘Women2Drive’ went out sitting behind the steering wheel around the streets of Riyadh last October, violating unique Saudi law of female driving ban in the world. Saudi women filmed themselves while they were driving and posted their videos on Youtube afterwards. Those who were stopped by the police were kept in their cars until some male familiar arrived to ‘rescue’ them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZMbTFNp4wI

This is the on-going struggle that Saudi women face bravely. In 1990,  A precedent event saw forty-seven businesswomen and professors taking over Riyadh with their cars. Last year, ‘Women2Drive’ first came to prominence in the Saudi political sphere by uploading numerous videos of women driving.

The movement proved to be controversial. Religious adviser Majlis Al Ifta Al Aala responded to the campaign with claims that if women would be allowed to drive, there will be ‘no virgin women’ any more –  encouraging prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that driving might cause ovary damages and infertility.

Achievements from the Saudi female fight

In the last few years, Saudi women have gained some progress. There is now women’s suffrage and the possibility of being elected in the municipal elections. Women will also now take part in the Majlis a-Shoura, an institution where the new laws of the kingdom are approved. Other achievements are that women are allowed to sell female lingerie – a job exercised by men until now, and the participation of two women in the Olympic Games of 2012. As the director of global initiatives at Human Right Watch, Minky Worden, said “the race for gender equality in Saudi Arabia cannot be won until the millions of women and girls who are now deprived of athletic opportunities can also exercise their right to practice sports.”

However, the restrictions placed on gender which remain are stark and, in some cases, tragic. In 2002, a fire destroyed a female school in Mecca, killing 50 girls. Mutawa, the religious police of Saudi Arabia, prohibited the rescue service’s entry into the school to save the girls, due to the fact that the children were not wearing the proper clothes- making it potentially ‘sinful’ to interact with them. This scandalous event generated changes in the educational system that women have been claiming for a long time.

The nightmare of new technologies

The life of Saudi women within the 21st century is quite similar to the world described by George Orwell in 1984. The richer and more powerful the country is, the bigger the step-back of Saudi women in terms of their human rights. Proof of this is in the latest initiatives proposed by the Saudi kingdom: when a woman is going to leave the country an SMS can be sent to any ‘representative’ of a woman to notify them of her departure. Before they travel the woman must have a document signed by their ‘supervisor’ –husband, father, brother or sons, in this order- to travel by themselves. The government’s argument is that authorising the new system is going to ‘accelerate’ the process in the airports.

This, of course, is related to the broader ethical debate of who has the right to track another human like a pet with a chip in its neck? The geopolitical hegemonic argument is also brought into question: namely, why the United States is so vehemently in support of similar demonstrations in the Ukraine and yet so silent on the tracking of women in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world? Obviously, economic interests come first and ethical ones come later. Questions have been raised as to why the US — the supposed world leader on human rights — is not able to stand up and speak out about the precarious situation of the Saudi women and the ‘golden cage’ that confines them.

 

Breasts are worth a thousand words

Using the female body as a symbol of protest is an ongoing debate among feminists worldwide. The controversial case of Femen, an exhibitionist feminist protest group, brings into question the impact of provoking society using topless practices. 

Ana Escaso Moreno translates Andreyna Valera’s work on this case from Spain’s La Huella Digital for Pandeia.

Femen was set up in 2008 in Ukraine. Its founder — and the leader of the movement until few months ago — is, surprisingly, a man who stated in a documentary he chose ‘the most beautiful and docile’ women to take part in this feminist movement.

Several feminist groups have criticised this practice. They argue mostly that the girls that integrate Femen and act in its performances represent the stereotype of beauty imposed by society nowadays. For centuries, the female body has been associated with some kind of sexual drive. Women were considered as objects for men’s entertainment and thus they consider these ways of protesting as unhelpful in disassociating from this sexual drive. For Femen, on the other hand, it is just a way to use women’s bodies objectified by patriarchy to spread their message.

Femen’s first appearance in Tunisia was lead by Amina in March 2013. It was the first time the movement went to a Muslim country. Amina, a local woman, was driving the protest and she became the focus of all restraints and critics of her society. She was very confident about taking her clothes off writing on her body everything she wanted to express in front of her patriarchal society. The very first words seen by the public were a direct message against women’s oppression in some Muslim countries (Not Safe For Work link), who bear the brunt of their entire family honour on their bodies: ‘A woman’s body is hers and nobody else’s’. Immediately afterwards, a woman claiming to be her aunt said in a youtube video that ‘Amina had embarrassed her family, her father can’t stop mourning and she is not longer considered one of us’. Later her father belied this statement to the press and declared to be proud of her daughter and her compromise with her ideas even if they were a little excessive in his eyes.

The importance of a picture

Tunisia and Egypt have the oldest and most active feminist groups in the Middle East. Nevertheless, women are still under men’s authority to be seen as ‘proper women’ within society. Amina’s photo showing her breasts gives her some sort of power:  there is a certain experience of freedom and vigour within it. For her it was easier to get out there and express herself in the same way the Femen followers do in the West, through social networks. This was the beginning to claim for Tunisian womens liberty.

Femen is an example of a very original way of protest. They know that their ‘renewal action repertoires and advertising tactics are required to increase efficiency’. Amina was alone in Tunisia; some other women posted topless pictures on social media but they didn’t have as much impact as Amina had. She knew that the worldwide coverage that Femen usually obtain, safeguarded her. The feeling of belonging to a large group makes people do things they would not normally do if they feel they are alone with the consequences of their actions.

A few days after her first topless photo shoot, Amina was arrested by the Tunisian authorities. Her Femen fellow organised demonstrations worldwide calling for the release of Amina. Indeed, several feminist groups declared April 4 as the “day of the hijab and topless” to show the government that if they are forced to cover their faces, they will continue showing their breasts, in support of Amina’s release. While her trial was held, a group of people demonstrated calling for an end to this wave of toplessness in Tunisia arguing that this practice did not represent Tunisian women. Once again, Femen stoked passions for and against.

It could be said that Femen use the ‘performing arts’ as a tool. Sometimes they protest wearing flower crowns on their heads as Renaissance female gods coming out from Botticelli’s paintings. Their acting repertoire is quite unconventional and there is a political and ideological background to it.

According to the book “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler, we can deduce that Femen uses the female body as a means of subversion, “the category of sex is neither unchangeable nor natural; it is a specifically political use of the category of nature that obeys the purposes of reproductive sexuality. In other words, there is no reason to classify human bodies in male and female sexes except that this classification is useful for the economic needs of heterosexuality and to provide a naturalist shine to this institution.”

Femen use femininity that has been imposed on women since they were kids to hand their message through the “female model” created by society, this makes their message more shocking.

The dark side of the story

It is important to mention how Amina’s story ended. There are many incoherencies in the story that allow people to think she succumbed to Ennahda’s regime threats.

While she was imprisoned, all cells of Femen worldwide mobilized to demand her release. One of these performances was particularly striking. It wasn’t ‘the usual’: showing bare breasts against mosques, churches or government buildings. In this case they went a little further and imitated the way of Muslim prays, who at the beginning of the prayer repeated “Allah akbar” while they repeated “Amina Akbar” again and again. The majority considered this performance as heretical.

Weeks later, Amina posted her last picture as a member of Femen in her twitter account typed on her body ‘we do not need your democracy’ (NSFW Link), in concurrence with the feminist movement’s philosophy. After her trial was held and to everyone’s surprise, Amina left Femen calling them Islamophobic in relation to some acts they committed: to repeat her name during Muslim prays; to burn a flag with the shahada (the faith profession for Muslims); and she also claimed to doubt the sources of funding used by Femen. Days later, a Tunisian newspaper published that Amina had declared via Skype she had been mistreated by her family, who thought she had a mental illness. She also accused  her family, particularly her cousin, of stealing her mobile and keeping her locked up until she criticised the organisation in public. She was forced to read the Koran despite being an atheist and when she refused to read it, her family took her in front of an Iman who, with his hand on Amina’s head, forced her to read the Koran, the act of an exorcism!

Amina’s story is not over. This young controversial activist has now given us more to talk about and will test the government of her country once again.

Image credit: Altruisto