Seeing the Olympics as an opportunity to highlight their cause, human rights groups have been protesting institutional abuses and discrimination against women in “Islamic states.” Some claim that they should not be able to participate in the Olympics games.
Only two weeks before the London Olympic Games 2012 began, Saudi Arabia backed down from its prohibition of Saudi women athletes. The Middle Eastern kingdom had faced the possibility of being banned, since the games require the participation of men and women.
Saudi Arabia sent two female athletes, causing many in the West to celebrate what they see as the, forced, liberalizing of the kingdom. However, as the New York Times reported, questions were raised when one of the Saudi athletes participating — Judo practitioner Wojdan Shaherkani, 16 — turned out only to have a blue belt. This grade is markedly lower than any other Olympic Judoka.
Not every human rights group was pleased by the presence of women from “Islamic states.” A spokeswoman for Ukrainian women’s activist group Femen told reporters, “we want the International Olympic Committee to shut out Islamic states from the competition because they use the participation of women in the games to pretend that they have freedom whereas they’re still killed and raped and discriminated against every day there.” These states “apply sharia laws, which are inhuman,” she added.
Femen is known for public protests in which their members go naked or topless, with their bodies usually painted with slogans proclaiming their position on a particular issue. These stunts have been highly successful in grabbing media attention, and in legitimizing Femen, even though they are largely critical of Islamist states; a subject that is normally taboo in the mainstream media.
French members of Femen protested on London Bridge, stripping nearly naked, and exposing slogans painted on their bodies. Ukranian members of the group were unable to travel to the UK, due to visa restrictions. The Femen protestors were promptly arrested, although not before being filmed by several media stations.