Are the abortion rights in France at risk due to the upcoming presidential elections?

17/01/2017

This January 17th was the forty-first anniversary of the “veil law”, which gave cisgender women of France the right to get an abortion. This right was won by the hard work of determined feminists in France. It was a long battle, spanning many centuries. Back in the forties, having an abortion in France was penalized by capital punishment and even though that the last execution took place in 1942, having an abortion was still a crime until the seventies. In 1944 women were allowed to vote in elections in France, at the time the feminist movement was spreading around Europe and in France, the main focus was on reproductive rights. After family planning was established, several clinics opened up and contraception was legalized in 1967 – yes folks, it was illegal!

In 1971, 343 female public figures signed a manifesto declaring that they’d had an abortion and asked to stand trial. The text of the manifesto was written by Simone de Beauvoir and began as follows:

One million women in France have abortions every year. Condemned to secrecy, they do so in dangerous conditions, while under medical supervision this is one of the simplest procedures. We are silencing these millions of women. I declare that I am one of them. I declare that I have had an abortion. Just as we demand free access to contraception, we demand the freedom to have an abortion.” (via revolvy)

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Cover of Le Nouvel Observatoire

The manifesto was published on Le Nouvel Observatoire is often referred as the “Manifesto of 343 sluts” due to the fact that after the release of the manifesto, cartoonist Cabu (who was murdered during the Charlie Hebdo shooting) drew a cover for Charlie Hebdo stating: “Who got the 343 sluts from the abortion manifesto pregnant?”

Two years later, in 1973, over three hundred doctors in France signed a declaration stating that they support abortion rights and a woman’s right to make decisions about their reproductive health. Finally the public began to support the campaign and abortion was legalised in 1974 for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, this was later extended to 12 weeks. Additionally, since 1982, abortion fees have been paid through social security as a fundamental right.

With this brief history of the battle driven by feminists in France over half a century, to improve the access to a safe and legal abortion, France may now be seen to be taking a step backwards regarding this issue in the upcoming presidential elections. There has been a huge increase in anti-abortion campaigns run by conservatives. The current parliament even voted to ban anti-abortion websites, however, it backfired with huge criticism from conservatives stating that banning these websites is against their freedom of speech. Presidential candidates for the upcoming election are taking their stand on the issue as well. François Fillon, the official candidate from the Republican Party, Les Républicains, has stated that because of his religious beliefs he is against abortion, but that he would not change the law itself. Yet far right candidate from the Front National, Marine Le Pen, said that she does not agree that abortion should be paid for with social security and that she would like to alter this decision.

As the campaigns against abortion increase and as the political candidates start taking their stands on the issue, the current access abortion rights appear to be at risk. As a result of this, on the anniversary of the day when the legalisation of abortion passed in France, INSOMNIA, a feminist squad based in Paris, known for their night actions, walked the streets of Paris and hung a thousand posters using coat-hangers with the following statements:

  •         IVG: non au retour du cintre en mai 2017  (Abortion: we say no to the return of the hanger in May 2017)*
  •         Avortement  sans médecin: plus jamais (Abortions without a doctor: never again)*
  •         IVG  remboursé en 2017 : un droit non négociable (Socially secured abortion in 2017 : a non-negotiable right)*
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Photography by Pauline Makoveitchoux

These posters and the use of coat-hangers were designed to attract the attention of passers-by, as they are tragic reminders of the lengths that women were forced to go to when abortions were illegal. INSOMNIA intentionally left coat-hangers and posters in front of the building of Le Figaro, which is a newspaper known for supporting the central-right and which has recently published an advertisement using anti-abortion propaganda.

INSOMNIA, in their press release, stated that abortion rights which have been won in France are non-negotiable and that politicians do not have the right to make decisions on women’s bodies. They demand that the compensation of abortions should remain a constitutional right in the French legislation. They also demand that the right to abortion be inscribed in the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union.*

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Photography by Pauline Makoveitchoux

Never forget that a political, economical or religious crisis is enough to cast doubt on women’s rights. These rights will never be vested. You have to stay vigilant your whole life.” – Simone de Beauvoir.*

*Localisations of the slogans, the press release and the quote of Simone de Beauvoir were done by INSOMNIA

(This article was published on European Young Feminist Blog on 26/01/2017)

Feminists in Paris gave a name to invisible murders: Femicide!

25/11/2016

In France a woman is murdered by a man they know every 2.5 days. Lea G. aged 18, Fabienne S. aged 56 and Maryvonne G. aged 73 were all murdered in France this year at the hands of men. This year alone 100 women have been murdered in France.

Parisians woke up on the 25th of November to witness a feminist intervention on 100 billboards scattered around Paris. INSOMNIA, a feminist squad based in Paris, took over the streets during the night of 24th November for a subversive collective action. They replaced 100 billboards on the major boulevards of Paris, with posters of the 100 women who were victims of femicide. Each poster detailed the name of one of the women, their age, and who killed them. They were murdered by their husbands, partners, ex-partners, fathers or brothers, men who were close to them. INSOMNIA declared that their motivation is to give a name and an identity to these women whilst emphasising their cause of death: femicide!

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INSOMNIA declared that their aim was to influence the French Government to recognize femicide as a crime, like it is recognized by Italy, Spain and seven countries in South America. Currently, the French Government is discussing a new law proposal called: “Equality and Citizenship” where the sex of the victim would be considered as an aggravating factor. INSOMNIA are demanding that this new law is passed and once it’s in place, it should be applied by jurisdiction.

Femicide is not a common crime, it is not a private family matter, and it is definitley not a passion crime. The media, by not naming the victims and perpetrators, demonstrates their ignorance towards male dominance in society and contributes to the normalization of these crimes. INSOMNIA calls for the media to portray femicide with the proper and correct acknowledgments when publishing news stories on femicide.

INSOMNIA is a new feminist squad formed in Paris who combat sexism with subversive street action at night. Their first action took place this summer, they covered the windows of a bagel shop, Bagelstein, in Paris due to a sexist advertisement they displayed. This summer, Denis Baupin, the former deputy speaker of the French Parliament was accused of sexual assault by his colleagues. Bagelstein used this sexual assault story as “humour” to adversite their bagels. The advertisment posters were pulled down quickly after the action and changed by “le jury de la déontologie publicitaire” the French governing body who make judgements on advertisment ethics.

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Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women INSOMNIA took the streets once again to revolt for the all the women who are victims of femicide and victims of male violence! They call for proper action to take place in order to end femicide!

 (This article was published on European Young Feminists Blog on 25/11/16)

Beyond the breaking point: No Tolerance For Rape in Greece!

26/09/2017

In Greek city of Larissa, two senior men abducted a 14-year old girl. They held her against her will in an apartment for 15 days, sexually abused her and systematically forced her into prostitution. The two men (one of them was her Godfather) were arrested yet others who were involved into this crime are still not. The girl’s identity is being kept hidden and she’s currently under protection, yet what was the public reaction to this crime in Greece?

Feminists in Greece have reported that they were highly disappointed in the fact this crime was seen as specific case whereas this girl is not the only person who has been sexually abused in Greece. They explained that no protests were organized and the media coverage was poor and mainly focused on pitying the victim and ignoring the sexual violence issue in Greece. They stated that the rape culture in Greece is beyond the breaking point and therefore they have gathered to formed a movement called: “No Tolerance”. No Tolerance will the voice of women in Greece who have been a victim of sexual, physical, psychological, economical violence and sexist discrimination.

Here’s the statement from No Tolerence: “Five people are accused for what the 14-year old girl went through. These people, as usual, are presented by the media as “monsters”, “sickos” etc. However, when we look at their photos, we only see ordinary men and not “antisocial elements”. The rapes were not committed by “antisocial elements”, they were committed by relatives, neighbors, lawyers, grocers and family men of the town. A whole society stands silently by, complicit in this rape and in every rape. The media are also complicit, when they represent each case of rape, murder and abuse of women as a surprising and isolated event. Those who are, every single time, shocked, and then quickly forget, are complicit. Those who believe that women are solely responsible to protect themselves are also complicit. We refuse to forget. We know that what happened to the girl in Larissa could happen to anyone, an acquaintance, a friend or a classmate; and we know it has happened and will happen again to others. We demand justice. Justice means that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime, for all perpetrators. Justice means changing the institutional framework in order to better support the victims. Justice means that the media should openly discuss these crimes without feeding sensationalist articles to a spectacle-thirsty audience. Justice means that those who do not see and do not hear, who never speak out, should also be held accountable. Justice means not to be afraid – on the street, at work, at home, out with our friends. So that the rape of the 14-year old girl does not go unanswered. So that none of us feels alone against the patriarchy!”

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On 24th of September, No Tolerance have organized a protest in Athens, against rape culture where over 100 people have joined. They chanted: “Not tolerance in Larissa, no tolerance anywhere, the fight against rape is everywhere!” Feminist who participated in the protest said that the reaction from the public was highly positive and many bystanders stated that they were not aware of this crime and they thanked the protesters for raising awareness.

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No Tolerance also did not forget to show solidarity with the women of Poland who are currently under the risk of loosing all abortion rights as the Polish government is discussing to ban abortion without any exceptional cases.

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No Tolerance is determined to continue their fight against patriarchy and calling out to every woman in Greece to join them! If you would like to connect with No Tolerence you may write to them at kamia.anoxi@gmail.com

Free Jacqueline Sauvage and make her case an example for violence against women law to pass in France!

UPDATE: Jacqueline is now free! – 28/12/16

After 14 months of hard work and campaigning run by feminist in France, Jacqueline Sauvage will finally be freed! Jacqueline was condemned to 10 years in prison on 10th of October 2014. Feminists protested and created a petition for Hollande to grant his forgiveness, which was signed almost 400.000 times! On 31st of January 2016, Hollande partially pardoned her which would result her being in prison for 2 years and 4 months. The lawyers asked for her probation but the court ruled out this demand August 12th, 2016. Today Hollande made a historical announcement and declared: “I have decided to grant Jacqueline Sauvage a gracious remission of the remainder of her sentence. This grace will put an immediate end to her detention.” Yesterday it was Jacqueline’s birthday and as of today she will be a free woman! Thanks to feminists in France, thanks to the big fight they’ve put! You may read Jacqueline’s story below, I hope her case will become an example case for more “equal” laws in France!

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There’s this belief that human rights have developed so much in Western countries, therefore we don’t need feminism anymore. As a woman born and raised in a “less developed” country such as Turkey, and who now lives in Paris, I would be lying to say that I don’t benefit from the modern and democratic life in France. The rights and freedom that I have here has liberated me, made me a different woman over the past 2.5 years. Yet there’s still so much more to achieve when it comes to women’s rights in France.  When I announce myself as a feminist to someone, I often get this response: “Oh, so you’re a feminist for privileged women, but what about the women who get raped in Middle-Eastern countries, what do you do for them?”

I’m sorry for not being able to be in touch with every single woman who is oppressed in the world, for not being able to raise awareness on each one’s oppression. Please let me know if you know someone who’s capable of doing that. I’d like to tell you that even though some women are more privileged than others, they still face the similar kind of oppression. As for Jacqueline Sauvage’s case, they also face the similar kind of justice.

Jacqueline Sauvage is a 68-year-old convicted murderer in France. She shot her husband of 47 years, back in 2012 and recently she has been convicted of murder and sentenced to jail for 10 years. Why would someone shoot a person that they have lived together for 47 years, and had 4 children with? What’s wrong with this woman?

Here’s what’s wrong, and the thing that’s wrong is not with this woman, but with the patriarchal abuse. Jacqueline Sauvage woke up one night to her husband trying to get in their room. He actually broke the handle of the door, threw it at her, and started to punch and kick her. It was a regular routine for her. Why was he doing it this time? Because he wanted soup! Once the beating was over he went out in the terrace, waiting for his soup. That’s when it finally hit Jacqueline, that she could not stand this anymore. She took the rifle from their room, walked towards him, shot him in the back 3 times, and then called the police to say: “I killed my husband.”

Jacqueline Sauvage met her husband when she was a teenager. She was physically and psychologically abused for almost half of a century! This man abused not only her, but their four children as well. Their son committed suicide just one day before the murder, due to the fact that his father beat him. Their daughters have been physically and sexually abused by him. Sylvie Marot, one of the daughters, testified in the name of her sisters and said that the sexual abuse began when they were about 6-7 years old, and once they got older he started to rape them.

People who testified in the court, neighbors, friends, even the mayor explained about the ongoing abuse for all these years. One neighbor even said “thank you” to Jacqueline Sauvage, “now we can sleep easily.”

Yet the court decided to come to conclusion on two facts; none of the victims ever took this ongoing abuse case to authorities, until the murder occured and the restrictive French law that states, when there’s an attack, an act of riposte is self-defense and that the two acts have to be proportional. Jacqueline Sauvage killed her husband not during but after the attack. She used a rifle, whereas he used a door knob, his fists and his kicks, so the court ruled that it was not self-defense. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Jacqueline Sauvage was suffering from battered person syndrome, which is the physical and psychological condition of a person who has suffered persistent emotional, physical and sexual abuse from another person. The courts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA accept battered woman defense, where women have used force to defend themselves or killed their abuser due to the abusive and life-threatening circumstances they are in. This law does not exist in France, therefore the court have focused on the fact that the victims did not report the abuse, but not on the fact why they could not!

Below you may watch how Jacqueline’s daughter broke down in tears after the court’s desicion:

There’s this pardoning system in France, which I came to be aware of due to this case, it’s called “la grâce presidentielle.” It dates back to the monarchy times when people objected to the judiciary system and sought justice from the power above. So François Hollande, has the right to “pardon” Jacqueline Sauvage for the “crime” she committed. The daughters of Jacqueline Sauvage had lodged their application for the pardoning and in the meantime a feminist activist from “Osez le Féminisme”, Karine Plassard, launched a petition via change.org to collect signatures for Jacqueline Sauvage to be pardoned. Currently there are over 325.000 people asking Hollande to pardon her.

In the meantime a Facebook page was dedicated for the cause and women have prepared a postcard template to send to president Hollande with the request. People are also sending letters to Jacqueline Sauvage to show their solidarity with her. On January 22nd, FEMEN protested in front of the prison where Jacqueline Sauvage is kept, asked for her to be free and dug up a symbolic tunnel for her to escape.

On January 23rd solidarity with Jacqueline movement organized a protest in Bastille square, Paris, where hundreds of feminists participated in speak out the demand on liberating Jacqueline Sauvage. I participated in that protest, where I saw not only representatives from various feminist associations but people who are not a part of one. There were many who travelled from various cities around France to participate in this protest.

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I briefly interviewed Karine Plassard, who has launched the petition and organized the gathering, and learned that there has been no statement from Hollande yet. I know that this pardoning will help Jacqueline, who was in psychological captivity and was physically abused for 47 years, live the rest of her life free, but I asked Karine if this will solve the real issue, and there I learned the fact that there actually is no law for “violence against women” in France! She told me that there are articles that state equality between men and women, there are articles that state violence against women but it’s all scattered within the law. There’s no inclusionary main law that addresses this issue as a whole!

This was the case for Turkey as well, but back in 2012 feminists have gathered a law themselves and made it pass through the parliament! So I asked her if this would be the case for France; she told me that this is indeed what they are working on. Yet she said that all feminists associations should unite for this cause. There are feminists working on various fields, yet for this law to be prepared, they need to work together. They need to work with lawyers, people who know the law, who know what exactly to propose such has having a special budget for this cause as well. She told me that there’s no mention of “domestic violence” in the French law, that if you are abused by your partner it’s handled the same way as if you were abused by some stranger! She also added that the article addressing rape does not mention consent; the word consent is nowhere to be found in that article! She said that they have wanted this law for more than 30 years now, and she called out to all the feminists to unite in order to make this happen.

“Will Hollande pardon Jacqueline Sauvage?” is what the media in France asks at the moment.  In my opinion this is a great opportunity for Hollande and his party to win back the popularity they’ve been losing. Pardoning Jacqueline Sauvage and then working together with women’s rights activists in order to pass this law, is indeed essential for human’s rights development for France!

Three women who defeated a dictator: The Mirabal sisters

25/11/2014

Rafael Trujillo was one of the cruelest dictators in the history of South America. In 1931, he was elected President of the Dominican Republic by public vote after a military coup. Over the years of his dictatorship, he refused to step down from his throne and ruled over the country for 31 years.

The upper middle class of the Dominican Republic supported Trujillo – they saw him to be  “improving the economic development of the country and providing much-needed infrastructure”. The bourgeoisie ignored all of his murders and human rights violation. With the development of the economy came corruption and those who benefited the most were, of course, Trujillo himself, his close family and business people who chose to stay close to him.

Trujillo led in such a way that he was known as “El Jefe” (the chief). Due to his narcissistic nature, he re-named some cities, and even mountains, after himself. He had no tolerance for those who opposed him.  Those who did were either imprisoned or murdered by unknown assailants. Trujillo was responsible for the murder of 50,000 people, including the Parsley genocidal massacre against the Haitians.

The leader was quick to suppress any sort of rebellion against his regime, yet the public began to secretly form solidarity groups and organisations to resist. One of these organisations was the “Butterflies”, formed by three brave women known as the Mirabal Sisters. These sisters and their husbands put up a strong fight for human rights and democracy by risking their own lives. They distributed flyers about the people murdered by the regime of Trujillo in order to inform the public. They were also in possession of arms, which they were preparing to use once the movement would become an open revolution. They were declared as terrorists and traitors by Trujillo, and were arrested many times under the charge of dividing the unity of the country. The state took possession of their land and houses.

mirabal-sisters

On November 25 1960 as Minerva, Maria and Patria Mirabal were returning from a visit to their husbands in prison, Trujillo supporters beat them to death with sticks, shoved them in the back of a car and threw them off a cliff. The government declared these as deaths caused by a road-traffic accident.

Trujillo thought that he could get away with the murder of the Mirabal sisters, just like he got away with the murder of thousands of people. He thought he could extinguish the movement that these sisters had founded. However, instead the deaths fueled the spirit of revolution in the Dominican Republic. Riots increased and, six months later on May 30 1961, Trujillo was assassinated.

In February 1963, the Dominican Republic elected a democratic government for the first time in decades. Dedé Mirabal, who was no in the car with her sisters on that day, dedicated her life to telling the story of her heroine sisters, and founded the Mirabal Sisters Foundation and Mirabal Sisters Museum. Her son Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal was elected as Vice President of Dominic Republic on 1996 to 2000. He is now the Minister of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation of Dominic Republic. Minevra Mirabal’s daughter Minou Tavarez Mirabal was the deputy foreign minister from 1996 to 2000 and she is currently the presidential nominee for the 2016 Dominican Republic general elections.

Since 1981, 25 November is remembered as a day to raise awareness on violence against women, with various rallies and congresses organised worldwide in commemoration. In 1999, the United Nations officially announced this day as “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women”.

The regimes of dictators all around the world have worked in the same way throughout history. It supports those who ally them, and suppresses those who riot against them as traitors. These dictators, drunk on power, fear women the most. They fear women who are educated and brave, women who speak out and chose to resist.

Feminist “Butterflies” of Turkey

The same man has been ruling in Turkey for over 13 years. His title as the prime minister or president, it really does not matter. He is in power and is capable of causing a civil war between his party and that of the opposition in order to maintain his position. He has great supporters – those who are blinded by patriotic and conservative views, and those who are empowered by the fake stability of the economy. Ignorance in areas of human rights and freedom of speech is unsurprising, as people are convinced that the system (which they now benefit from) will never have a negative effect on their lives, as it has on the lives of others.

Yet what we see in the feminist movement in Turkey over the past 2,5 years is amazingly empowering. Women’s lives are the most damaged by conservative regulations and unequal human rights, therefore they resist the most. A cleric announced that “pregnant women should not walk the streets” (as it is seen as pornographic), so thousands of pregnant women filled the streets with their baby bumps. A politician proclaimed that “women should not laugh out loud in public”, so millions of women react with their laughter by posting photos of them laughing on social media platforms! A male politician says, “as a women you should shut up” to a female politician, and thousands of women shout loudly “as a woman I speak up!” Millions of women filled the streets of Turkey when Özgecan Aslan was brutally murdered last February – they united under the belief of “we do not want men who rape and murder women to get discounted sentences!” The law’s symbolic name is the “law of Özgecan”, and pro-government women’s rights organisations have started to support it. The law has been presented in the parliament and has gained support by pro-government women’s rights associations so it will probably pass and there will be deterrent sentences for the murderers and rapists.

Women of Turkey, the more the feminists speak up, the more they become aware of their human rights, and the more they react. They are not locked between the walls of their households. They are out on the streets, protesting and claiming their fundamental human right – the right to live!

It’s never too late to accomplish what the Butterflies had accomplished. Let’s remember what Patria Mirabal said: “We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime, we have to fight against it. I am willing to give up everything for this, including my life.”

(This article has been edited by Aoife Mary Mangan and published on European Young Feminists Blog on 25/11/2015)

The excluded ‘misbehaved’ feminists: FEMEN

16/09/2015

Well-behaved vs. misbehaved feminists: FEMEN

This Saturday, 12th of September, FEMEN organized a protest at a Muslim Conference: “The women at honor”. Only 1 of the 10 speakers of this women themed conference was a woman, and there were cooking shows and Islamic women’s clothing fashion parades. Two FEMEN activists participated at the speech of Mehdi Kebir and Nader Abou Anas where they discussed the value of women in Islam. Nade Abou Anas is known for legitimizing marital rape by encouraging women not to refuse to have sex with their husbands or else “they will be cursed by the angels all night.” FEMEN jumped on the stage to protest while the two Imams were talking about whether it is okay to beat your wife or not, and stating that Muhammed did not beat his wife and Muslim community should follow the lead of the prophet.

The two activists took off their burkas and stood on the stage with these messages written on their naked bodies: “No one can enslave me, no one can possess me, I’m my own prophet!”

I shared the photos from the event on Twitter and the reactions the protest gor was insane! Most of the people attacked FEMEN for being pointlessly hostile. It’s easy to see that there was a reason behind this protest as these two imams who were discussing about women were not particularly women’s rights defenders. There was one significant Muslim woman who defended that FEMEN was not physically violated on the protest, even though the live footage clearly shows that one of the activists was brutally kicked on the floor by multiple men while being taken away. I’ve got quite upset over that claim. Why would a woman turn her back on other women who got abused by male violence? What makes you turn your back on your sister? Why would she choose to have her Muslim identity over her woman identity?

This question made me reflect on the 3 days that I spent with FEMEN on the last week of August at the FEMEN & MLF training camp. I see that many people, including feminists are easily judging FEMEN, so I thought I should write about my own experience with them.

Before the camp, I obviously knew who FEMEN was but I didn’t have any further information about what they actually defended. They were clearly a militant group formed against women’s sex trade and had a manifesto where they declared that they use their bare breasts as weapons to fight for sextremism, atheism and feminism. I knew that in Turkey, they were called “women who use their breasts to get attention” and that they were named as “white-feminists” (privileged feminists) who patronizes underprivileged women.

So there I was on a Friday afternoon 2 days right after FEMEN received death threats on their headquarters door. As soon as I saw the police patrol car with a squad outside the building, I realized that we really had to be protected by the police in order to carry out this feminist training camp.

The first day of the camp was more of an introduction to MLF (Women’s Liberation Movement of France) which was founded after realizing how male dominated the May ’68 student protests was. They were active since then. They were the women who marched for the right of abortion with Simone de Beauvoir. They were the women who were in solidarity with Leyla Zana who was imprisoned by the Turkish regime. I felt quite excited to meet such long-time feminist activist women!

The second day was more of a reality check for me as we were outside in a park (again protected by undercover policemen) and practiced various tactics for protests. I was literally a participant of a FEMEN protest yet with no target to attack. We practiced some skills such as protesting together in a line, combating obstacles and what to do during arrest (as each FEMEN protest ends with police intervention.) I believe the arresting act was a bit too much for me as I am quite distressed about police touching/beating my body. Yet I really felt empowered during the slogan exercises, especially when all of us, shouted loudly and angrily feminist slogans.

On Saturday night we had a discussion session open to public: “Women and Religion” with the participation of Zineb El Rhazoui (journalist and human rights activist), Inna Shevchenko (leader of FEMEN), Waleed Al-Husseini (Blogger on exile from Palestine), Michele Idels (MLF activist), Maryam Namazie (secularist and human rights activist on exile from Iran) and Corinne Rey (Charlie Hebdo cartoonist aka Coco).

What did these people have in common?

Some of them had to leave their home countries for being secular and doing blasphemy, some of them were not even safe in the countries they live in as they were fighting for freedom of speech against suppression of religion.

What did they all agree on that night?

Religion does suppress women. As a woman who grew up in a Muslim society, I could not agree more with this point. I do not see the day where women’s rights are fully achieved where any religion exists.

On Sunday, being exhausted from the intensity of the last two days, I could only participate at the photo shoot part where esthetic presentation of FEMEN was introduced. Obviously that was the part where I saw different women, from different ages, different races, speaking different languages, using their body for declaring their message. I saw so many different body types, with so many “faults” on them as the patriarchal media would tell us. Why do FEMEN activists look so white and like supermodels on the photos then? Well – there was obviously something odd there, either with our perception or the touch of the media – because all I saw was perfectly un-perfect bodies of women, present in a room, with pride, anger and full willingness to denounce patriarchy!

There was a point during the camp where I actually confronted FEMEN and asked them about the country flags and why would they use such patriotic symbols. Their response was that they use the flag to denounce patriotism and actually it’s the patriots who hate them the most for using their sacred symbols. I also told them that I see them as white feminists as most of the women and especially Middle Eastern women do not agree that FEMEN represents them, and they believe FEMEN’s statements are patronizing. Their response was simple: FEMEN protesting in your country does not mean that they represent every single woman there. They are also not talking over you. They are talking for themselves, yet they do have many supporters from those countries, of which they get constant appreciation from but these supporters don’t show their appreciation publicly as they are scared.

I guess that was a clear moment of realization for me. Why did we expect FEMEN to be the voice of every feminist and why did we expect them to do everything for feminism? Because they are the ones who get the most media attention. Why did they get this attention? Because they are protesting topless. So many feminists believe that they are re-creating patriarchy by sexually objectifying women and using their naked bodies to get attention. There’s a difference to understand here: do they use their bodies, or do they do just whatever they want to do with their bodies? Why do we label them as misbehaved feminists just because they are naked? They have every single right to use their body as a political platform for displaying a message, but here we are teaching them morals. Morals created by patriarchy. Because of these morals, they are being judged for sexual exhibitionism in France. What gives us feminists the right to tell FEMEN to change the way they protest or what to protest for? Isn’t that what men always do to us? Aren’t we being like men by shaming FEMEN for not using the media attention the way we want them to use it?

I don’t dare to judge a feminist group as longas they don’t re-create patriarchy and FEMEN doesn’t do that! Each feminist organization fights against patriarchy. Each has their part to combat for and contribute to the big fight with their ideology. You don’t have to become a member of that group in order to support them. Feminism is a roof uniting all women. We should not be divided but be united instead. If there is a social identity that should bring us together, than it is our womanhood. We are all women and we are all oppressed. This is and should be our common ground!

The woman who ran a marathon with blood running down her legs: Kiran Gandi

The woman who ran a marathon with blood running down her legs: Kiran Gandi

Most of us women bleed each month. The unfertilized eggs from our womb leave our body so that our womb refreshes itself for the next reproduction cycle. So that we can give birth to life. It’s not sacred, or holy, it’s just the way female body is. Yet so interestingly, we are not supposed to talk about it, and hide the fact that we do bleed.

Last time there was a global conversation about this was when Rupi Kaur’s photos about period were removed from Instagram. Rupi Kaur won her fight and now Instagram do not mark period as “inappropriate content”.  A big step for Instagram, a small one for the fight against patriarchy and sexism.

And now the conversation is back up. Why? Because 26 year old Harvard MBA student and drummer Kiran Gandhi, ran the London marathon back in April without a tampon, with her period running down her legs! Let alone the fact that she was also running for breast cancer and raised 2,000 pounds for that! Her story got viral after she gave an interview to Cosmopolitan about what she did, and why she did it. And as soon as it got viral, there began the discussions: “Oh this is disgusting!” vs. “Way to go, our new feminist heroine!”

So I contacted her and wanted to hear about all of this from her own words. Here’s what she has to say about her courageous act:

How did you decide to run this marathon without a tampon during your period?

As I explained in my blog, I got my flow the night before the London Marathon and it was extremely painful. I had spent a full year enthusiastically training hard, but I had never actually practiced running on my period. I thought through my options. Running 26.2 miles with a wad of cotton material wedged between my legs just seemed so absurd. Plus they say chaffing is a real thing. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was lucky to have access to tampons etc, to be part of a society that at least has a norm around periods. I could definitely choose to participate in this norm at the expense of my own comfort and just deal with it quietly. But then I thought… If there’s one person society can’t eff with, it’s a marathon runner. You can’t tell a marathoner to clean themselves up, or to prioritize the comfort of others. On the marathon course, I could choose whether or not I wanted to participate in this norm of shaming. I decided to just take some midol, hope I wouldn’t cramp, bleed freely and just run. A marathon in itself is a centuries old symbolic act. Why not use it as a means to draw light to my sisters who don’t have access to tampons and, despite cramping and pain, hide it away like it doesn’t exist? 66% of African girls know nothing about menstruation until they start. More than 40 million women in the United States live on the brink of poverty and a yearly supply of sanitary pads or tampons averages 70 dollars a year and they’re not covered by food stamps. Only 12% of women in India use sanitary pads or tampons. There are so many examples like these from all around the world.

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Did you have any negative reaction during the marathon while you were running?

There was this woman who came up behind me making a disgusted face to tell me in a subdued voice that I was on my period… So with thumbs up I responded to her: “No way, I had NO idea, thank you!”

How would you define period-shaming?

To me period shaming is when you are someone who’s experiencing the bleeding yet you have to make somebody else comfortable before yourself. Period shaming is when I have my period; I have to be quiet about it even though I’m the one in pain. I’m the one who has to pretend like it doesn’t exist, just for your comfort. You’ve been able to oppress me by telling me that if I speak about it I must be disgusting, I must be dirty, I must be weak, I must be unsanitary. Those are the reasons why period shaming exists, why it’s silent, why we don’t have words to talk about it and why it matters. To me one of the most interesting things about my decision to run free was that I was thinking the fact that the decision was so difficult for me in that moment, the fact that I was like “Oh God, I really do not want to run with a tampon, because I do not want to hurt myself, that just doesn’t seem like something I’m comfortable with or I’ve done before. The fact that I had to think about what other people would think of me. The fact that I had to feel like I only had really 2 or 3 options, options that I do not feel comfortable with or I haven’t explored. That shed light on the fact that there’s no global conversation about this. The fact that I feel women don’t have as many resources as they should to talk about their own bodies, and the fact that if we want, we should be able to run or do whatever we want to, how we want to.

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How was the reaction you’ve received once your story got viral?

Honestly, this is something that should not be a big deal, and you should be able run however you want, if there’s a little blood somewhere, it should not be such a big deal. The global response was so split, with a lot people understanding it and then a lot of people basically just saying that they thought it was gross. I don’t feel personally offended, it’s someone else’s opinion but that’s exactly what the story is about. That’s exactly the point. Something that 50% of us go through, that is so normal, honestly it’s just like 50% of the population has a certain hair colour, or has a certain build. It’s just so human. The fact that me existing and showing that it exists made so many people so deeply uncomfortable! It was really the point that the story was about.  To take a moment and analyze that. Where does that deep insecurity come from? Where does that deep discomfort come from? I found it completely amazing; I think when you get such an overwhelmingly negative and positive response, the extremes of both directions, that’s when you know that you struck a chord. I never would have thought this many people would have read the piece, let alone cared, but the fact that it started a global discussion about something that we go through, something that is real is just epic. It’s awesome! I don’t really care if people want to make fun of me, I felt good doing it, that’s my life and that’s my story.

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What’ the next step for you on this topic?

I think the next step for me is to travel to understand the issues more deeply. I addressed it from someone who is very much living in a position of privilege. I know my own privilege, I honor it and I’m acting on it. I think being aware, doing something that you think is radical, doing something that you think can create a conversation globally, being brave enough to get people to be pissed at you, to take that heat; that’s where I want to be. That’s what I want to be doing. I can’t wait to work with people who are deep in this field. I’m brand new to understanding the problems of women’s periods abroad. But I can’t wait to work with them. I can’t wait to have them educate me. I can’t wait to partner with them. I can’t wait to help direct this attention in the right way.

*Photos: Courtesy of Kiran Gandhi