Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Topless feminist protesters show what they're made of

From Diana Magnay, CNN
Click to play
Bare-breasted for a cause
  • Femen is Ukraine's topless female protest movement
  • It started off campaigning against sex tourism but now has a broader agenda
  • Launched in 2008 it has brought widespread media coverage to its cause

CNN's global series i-List takes you to a different country each month. In January, we visit Ukraine and look at changes shaping the country's economy, culture and social fabric.

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- "Our God is woman, our mission is protest, our weapons are bare breasts." It's the kind of political slogan that's bound to catch attention, particularly when it's dozens of topless women clutching campaign posters who are chanting it.

These are the women of Femen, Ukraine's topless female protest movement. Young women who believe that the best way to make their voice heard is through sheer bare-chested brazenness.

Femen's leader, 26-year-old Anna Gutsol, explains: "Our goal is active Ukrainian women who want to be involved in society and politics.

"We thought we'd create an organization where young girls could come and help others like them and help society. And the format we picked was this extremely sexy, bright way of presenting ourselves."

Gallery: Ukraine's topless protesters

Gutsol came from the theater business and knows how to create a spectacle. At the downtown Kiev cafe Femen uses a as a base there's a wall of fame dedicated to the international coverage Femen has received since it launched in Summer 2008 -- everything from Germany's Der Spiegel to Britain's The Sun to the U.S. Washington Post.

For a young movement with only around 300 activists, Femen punches well above its weight.

"What we do is we get Ukrainian and international coverage and it shows that the authorities are scared of seeing bare breasts," Gutsol says. "And the fact that they are trying to arrest us and not let us undress now proves it."

Femen started off campaigning against sex tourism. Now its agenda is broader. On a freezing December morning a bunch of Femen activists stand outside the parliament building. They're outnumbered by photographers. It's the day after President Viktor Yanukovych appointed his new cabinet, all of whom are men.

"This cabinet's like a male toilet," the activists scream, holding water bottles to their groins as though they're men in a urinal. This time, though, they keep their jackets on -- it's minus 7 C outside.

Gutsol wants representation for Femen in parliament and she's not scared about tackling issues beyond Ukraine's borders. "Kremlin leave us alone" is part of Femen's political manifesto.

In November last year members protested nude against the death by stoning of an Iranian woman for alleged adultery.

"We got a lot of coverage and a lot of letters from Iran thanking us for our support," Gutsol says. "I don't have advice for women from other cultures about how they should protest but one thing I know for sure is that they should raise their voice."