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29/03/2013 / Jo Alabaster

Stone Her To Death

Yesterday evening, I was horrified to read this article in the Daily Mail, reporting that Salafist religious leaders in Tunisia are calling for a 19 year old woman to be stoned to death. The woman, known only as “Amina”, published photos of herself on the Facebook page of the feminist activist group FEMEN-Tunisian posing topless with the phrases, “fuck your morals” and “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of the honor of anyone” written defiantly in Arabic across her chest, statements expressed against the oppression she lives under as a woman in Tunisia under a newly democratic but culturally theocratic regime.

Image

Reportedly, Amina has since been placed in detention by her own family and has not had contact with the outside world. There are rumors that she has put into psychiatric care.

Clementine Ford has written an excellent article on Daily Life outlining Amina’s situation and the cultural context surrounding her protest, while Ruby Hamad has explored the potential implications of topless protest for women in Arab countries, also very much worth reading. Maryam Namazie on Freethought Blogs has been publishing regular updates on Amina and news of her supporters as it comes to hand.

FEMEN have called to arms, amassing supporters and declaring a “Topless Jihad” for April 4th, for women worldwide to protest in solidarity with Amina against oppressive Islamist leaders.

Incidentally, I have been asked today whether I stand with FEMEN – I do not. FEMEN condemn the sex industry, while I support the rights of sex workers, their clients and the removal of stigma surrounding the sex industry.

I found myself questioning FEMEN’s intentions regarding Amina and how they relate to myself, a proud atheist woman in Australia who is almost certainly already considered an infidel and morally bereft by the sorts of preachers who call for the stoning of a woman. I had trouble imagining how any action I took could even register with those being protested against, let alone affect any change in their attitude – frankly, I’m not really sure that FEMEN themselves are capable of changing the attitudes of the hardened misogynistic institutions that they protest against.

I also didn’t consider that I could be particularly relevant in an awareness-raising capacity – Amina’s photographs and story more than speak for themselves.

Still, I didn’t feel able to let go of the inclination I had to do something. Evidently I can get a little entrenched in practicality at times, as it took me more than an hour to realise that it was perfectly fine – and I was perfectly fine with – the idea of making a statement with no particular expectation, but primarily as a means to express a sentiment that I strongly wished to articulate – that it is a hateful thing to declare that a woman should be stoned and that if you believe that your god would want you to perform such an atrocious act, I do not believe that you, your faith or your culture should be tolerated or respected.

I am a privileged woman in many respects and recognise that the culture that I live in affords me an existence that is incomparable to the experiences of many women who live in regions where fundamentalists are in power. My act of removing my top is barely one of defiance and has not placed me at any risk. Still, I wish to stand up and make this statement:

I support the right of all women to have autonomy over their own bodies, to express ownership over their own bodies, to experience the freedoms that I do. I deeply criticise those who shame, oppress and punish women for defying fundamentalist demands for “modesty”. I thank those who stand with me, I am privileged to stand with them and I support Amina.

ERMAHGERD BERBS!

Original Tweet here.

Since I summoned up the courage to post this on Twitter, I have been very pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming positivity of responses. I’d especially like to extend my appreciation to Donovan (@MrOzAtheist), who thought my statement worthwhile enough to share with his 20K+ followers (twice!) and to Dane (@danientifically) who wonderfully posted a photo of himself in solidarity with Amina.

If you are so inclined, please consider signing this petition to several institutions including Amnesty International and the United Nations requesting protection for Amina.

Addit: 31/03/2013 – My photo has been posted on Reddit on r/atheism here; I have created a Reddit account (joalabaster) and am participating in the resulting threads if you wish to join in.

Addit: 03/04/13 – I’ve Tweeted the photo again here, with a link to this blog post. Recursive! If you are considering retweeting the image (and you’re most welcome to), please use this one.

Addit: 03/04/13 – Another excellent post from Maryam Namazi, Why An International Day to Defend Amina? 

Addit: 20/09/13 – Just realised that I didn’t link to the second Reddit r/atheism thread that my photo was posted on, here. I participated in the commentary there also.

Further Reading:

What I Learned from Boobquake – an opinion piece by Jennifer McCreight recollecting Boobquake, a fantastic event which also utilised breasts to publicly challenge claims about “immodesty”.

2 Comments

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  1. somerandomperson / Apr 1 2013 1:03 AM

    As you (sorta) mention in this post either directly or via linked articles, a protest of this kind is going to be received differently by a western audience (especially places like reddit, the comments there seem to share a certain, ahem, playful theme) since western societies are *less* puritanical but *still* sexist and so respond to topless women in *somewhat* different ways, so I’m not entirely sure if this is a fruitful approach in a western context (one could argue it isn’t in a ‘muslim’ context either, as one of your linked article sorta does, but I suppose the amazing bravery can, thank god for idealism, blind us). I guess as an act of solidarity, it can work though and I don’t want to come across as somehow second-guessing your decision since it’s you who’s putting herself out there after all and, well, I’m not even a woman.

    Damn, I hope this didn’t come out as a completely garbled mess!

    I’m curious btw, why are you covered up compared to Amina?

    • Jo Alabaster / Apr 1 2013 2:02 PM

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. :)

      I agree – topless protests made within the context of Western liberal democracies are very different animals to those currently being made in Arabic nations – and I have great respect for women who are making them who have a great deal more to lose than I could in my relative safety over here.

      Beyond a questionably useful show of solidarity and a slight awareness-raising effect, I consider what I’ve done to be something of an indulgence, frankly. I had a message that I wanted to express and I did so. I’ve questioned the usefulness of my action beyond that expression and am not willing to claim that I’ve affected any broader change, but having got it off my chest (ha ha *eyeroll*) has it’s merits on a personal level.

      The hands are there because that is what I was comfortable with.

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