With their headline-grabbing tactic of demonstrating topless, the women of Ukraine's FEMEN movement can seem like a novelty act. But believe me, they are deadly serious.
And one of the main reasons they came into existence, a few years ago, was to fight against the way Ukrainian women are perceived and treated — not just in their own country, but around the world.
This year, the focus of their anger has been the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship (Euro 2012), which will be co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland. Like many other major sporting events, Euro 2012 is expected to arouse a boom in prostitution as local women offer to "service" foreign soccer fans.
The potential for widespread exploitation and abuse of women is even worse in Ukraine, which is a well-known European destination for sex tourism.
How well-known? Check out these two ads:
In both cases, the idea that Ukrainian women are Europe's sex toys is simply taken for granted.
FEMEN's founder, Anna Hutsol, told New Europe:
“I don't know what type of people will come or how they see our country, but if they think it is a 'brothel country', how will they behave with young women on the streets? You know, our girls dress quite liberally, which is usually not accepted in a European country, and to some could seem as a sexual call . This will also influence the behaviour of the sport fans. Thus, we need drive home the message: 'Yes, Ukrainian girls usually dress like this, but they are not prostitutes.'”Women re-appropriating their own sexuality. It's a thing now, with worldwide movements like Slutwalk and Rock The Slut Vote. But before them were these half-dressed Ukrainian women, shivering and screeching against a system that tries to keep them down. Let's all hope in never does.