Belly dance your way to emancipation. Dutch-Tunisian Kaouthur Darmoni believes this ancient Egyptian art form can be a powerful tool for modern women. The ritual of “The Goddess Dance” is one of the ways Darmoni’s foundation Feminine Capital works to empower and support individuals and women’s movements.
by Raja Felgata
An assistant professor in Gender and Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, Darmoni is active in the international struggle for women’s rights, with a particular focus on the Middle East. She lectures and gives corporate trainings as well as organising classes and workshops for women of all ages in the mental and physical arts of the belly dancing. Darmoni describes Raqsat Al Ilaha (Goddess Dance) as “ the oldest women’s ritual in the world”, dating back as it does some 4,000 years.
FEMEN is a feminist protest group, founded by Anna Hutsol in Ukraine in 2008. Their ambition is to become Europe’s largest women’s movement and to have unleashed a “feminist revolution” by 2017. The group has gained international attention because of their topless or semi-nude protests.
Darmoni is currently absorbed in following the impact of the Arab Spring on women’s rights in the region. She hopes her Feminine Capital can offer a positive alternative to the FEMEN phenomenon. This worldwide movement encourages women to express their solidarity with the oppressed by demonstrating topless and distributing these images via social media. The concept has met considerable resistance in Islamic countries. Tunisian feminist Amina had to go into hiding after she posted naked photos of herself on Facebook which were met with a storm of negative reactions and threats. Thousands of women around the world rushed to express solidarity with Amina by also posting photos, exposing their breasts.
Click here to watch a video interview with Amina.
Darmoni supports Amina’s struggle, but she’s not a supporter of FEMEN’s “bare-breast” photo campaign. There are other ways, she says, that women can use their physicality to draw attention to oppression. “Anger can be a powerful force that women can use in a positive way,” she says. Darmoni has devised a workshop called ‘Angry Breasts’ to protest against religious and sexual violence against women and to support Arab women in their continuing struggle for emancipation in the wake of the revolutions.
She hopes the workshop will encourage women to reclaim their breasts from “pornification” and the sex industry and reposition their bodies as 'body politics and body economics'. And anger, she says, is the most suppressed emotion for women in many cultures. Women are encouraged to smile and to be ‘nice’, not ‘aggressive’. But anger is a life force that leads to action. “It’s so liberating to express it! And we can do it in our own unique way, by using our breasts as agents of change to send a clear message to the world.”