Sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion. According to Ukrainian feminist and activist Inna Shevchenko these are the three main manifestations of the patriarchy and are oppressing women worldwide. The way to liberation: shatter the patriarchy. Her international organisation FEMEN is aiming to do just that.

Founded in 2008, the Ukrainian radical feminist organisation intends to protect women’s rights and gained international prominence during their controversial topless protests against sex tourism and religious institutions. As the leader of the group Shevchenko gained the most attention when she used a chainsaw to bring down a 4-metre high Cristian cross in Kiev in 2012, but not without suffering any consequences.

Since its foundation FEMEN members have consistently been subjected to kidnapping and threats by the local authorities. Shevchenko herself received multiple death threats and applied for asylum in France, which was approved in 2013, where she subsequently founded the French department of FEMEN.

But her activism has also stumbled upon some criticism. When she stated that she will never have a discussion about Muslim Feminism, because it doesn’t exist, many in the French Muslim community were outraged. But besides being critical about the Islam, other religions are just as bad for women’s rights she claims: “once any monotheistic religion is starting, feminism is finished. So for me, Muslim feminist, Christian feminist, Jewish feminist, it’s all oxymoronic”. It doesn’t go together”.

 

She is well aware she is offending religious people, but emphasises the importance of being able to freely criticise religion. Shevchenko stresses it is nothing more than a celebration of freedom of speech. To achieve more freedom, there should be more criticism and more blasphemy. Religion is simply one idea among many others and should never be put on the same level as politics.

Celebrating Dissent Festival  honours this freedom. The Freedom to think differently, freedom not to believe, and freedom to be yourself. Inna Shevchenko participates during the Interview Marathon and the Conversation on Women’s Dissent.