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Femen: Modern amazons, radical actions

The Femen are known for their spectacular topless protests. But who really are these radical feminists? Our reporter went to meet them.

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It began as a small group of Ukrainian women who were tired of being subjected  to sexists insults by men. In 2008, Anna Hutsol, Sasha Shevchenko and Oksana Shachko - joined some time later by Inna Shevchenko - decided to hold their first protests.

The Femen never imagined they would receive as much media coverage, even when two years later they decided to conduct their protests topless.

These young women denounce - in no particular order - sexism, homophobia, prostitution, dictatorships and religions. Their protests are always provocative and attract a heavy media presence. Although the Femen activists talk of “peaceful action”, those targeted often talk of being attacked.

Regularly arrested, molested, or imprisoned, the young women have been declared persona non grata in Ukraine and in Russia, where they are considered criminals. The founders of the movement have now fled to France and Switzerland.

Here in Paris, Inna Shevchenko, the public face of the movement, took over the group a year ago. She heads up the Paris office, which has become Femen’s international headquarters. Recently, she orchestrated a spectacular protest in favour of gay marriage, when Femen took over Paris’ famed Notre-Dame Cathedral.

It was not easy to meet these young women. The activists are naturally suspicious, not only of men, but of journalists in general. They also keep a tight lid on their forthcoming actions, for fear of them being disrupted.

We finally managed to establish a relationship of trust with them. We wanted to understand why there are currently several controversies surrounding Femen. Why have key activists left the movement? Why have some “subsidiaries” closed? Who finances the young women? Is the group in crisis? FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at a movement which provokes both passion and anger.

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