`Girl power' leads student protests through France

FRANCE WAS treated yesterday to a lesson in student power - and also in girl power. All over the country, it was women of 16 to 18 who took the lead in a day of protest by lycee students.

It was striking, therefore, that the mindless violence scarring the start of the march through Paris was entirely caused by young men: mostly younger teenagers from the "difficult" suburbs who had nothing to do with the lycee protests. Cars were overturned and shops and cafes pillaged in the Nation area of the capital by about a hundred masked youngsters. Eighty- two arrests were made.

The march was cut short by agreement of the organisers and the police to prevent further violence. An estimated 28,000 teenagers in Paris - and a nationwide total of more than 300,000 - made their point, none the less. The national day of action was the culmination of two weeks of protests, which started in Nimes in the south, against overcrowded classes, a shortage of teachers, the cancellation of courses, old buildings and excessive workloads.

The students have already begun to refer to their movement as "October 98". But unlike the May 1968 student uprising, the protests are not political, or at least not revolutionary.

The students do not want to change the world but to succeed in it. They want the French state to deliver the educational standards that it advertises - and the Education minister, Claude Allegre, to hurry the reforms that he has promised. The other great difference from 1968 is that the protests, from the start, have been led, and disproportionately supported, by women.

A hastily cobbled together "inter-lycees" assembly on Wednesday chose 17-year-old Loubna Meliane as the movement's national spokeswoman. The presidents of the two main unions of lycee students are both young women. After an earlier march in Paris on Monday, four of the seven speakers from the crowd at the final rally were women.

The moving force in the original, spontaneous protests were mostly female students. Yesterday's marches were evenly divided between young men and women but the initial demonstrations were noticeably dominated by girls. One 17-year-old girl in Nimes said last week: "The boys thought it was a great idea but a lot of them just went to a bar for a beer."

Chantal, 17, from Vernon in the Seine valley, was a steward on yesterday's Paris march wearing a black and white papier mache top hat and ., carrying a loud-hailer. "It is just the same in my lycee," she said. "The girls did all the talking and made the decisions. Now the boys are coming along but they were slower to get involved. Maybe the girls are more concerned about their futures. They tend to work harder in school, too."

Robert Ballion, a sociologist who has studied lycee politics in France, said the phenomenon is not new. For several years, girls had been taking the lead in school politics. "You'll find that adults in all schools say that, age for age, girls are more mature to deal with as negotiators, more responsible, less childish than the boys, who tend to be obsessed with their image and their manhood."

Another difference from May 1968 is that almost everyone in France, from the Education minister to the teachers' unions, says that the protesting lycee pupils are perfectly justified. Allegre was the butt of many of the placards and banners yesterday. "Allegre needs Viagra" read one. But heinsists he is working as hard and as rapidly as he can to deliver the exact reforms the students demand: smaller class sizes, shorter studying hours, less fact-based courses, more one-on-one tutorials. Theunions are demanding more teaching posts.

No need, says Allegre. France has plenty of lycee teachers, but not all are in the right places.

He is pressing for the decentralisation of the school system so that local school districts can answer their own staffing needs more easily.Allegre, in a sense, invited the protests of the past two weeks by sending a circular to all 2.3 million lycee students last year, asking for their comments on his planned reforms. He received two million replies.

However, the minister infuriated the students when he announced in the spring that most of his reforms would not be in place until the end of next year. He announced this week that some of the changes would be brought forward to the start of the winter term next month.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?