French women march against machismo

Click to follow
The Independent Online

After a month-long tour of the grimmest places in France, four young women and two young men led a march through Paris yesterday to protest against the oppression of women in the sink suburbs of French cities.

After a month-long tour of the grimmest places in France, four young women and two young men led a march through Paris yesterday to protest against the oppression of women in the sink suburbs of French cities.

The demonstrators – who call themselves ni putes, ni soumises (neither whores, nor downtrodden women) – have been touring the poor, racially mixed suburbs of French cities since 1 February. They hope to encourage young women in the banlieues – many, but not all of them, of Arab descent – to revolt against a chauvinist culture that divides women into two groups: the submissive and "respectable"; and the sexual prey.

The marchers, who have been met with counter-protests by Islamic groups and verbal assaults by gangs of young men on a tour of 24 cities in the last month, were received yesterday by the French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

Their march was inspired by two events. A 16-year-old girl, Sohane, was burned to death in the Parisian suburb of Vitry last year after being doused in lighter fluid by a spurned former boyfriend. And Samira Bellil, a woman of North African origin, published a book last year describing how she had been gang-raped as a teenager.

The six leaders of the protest – three of Arab orgin, three of French origin – led a march of several thousand people from the Place de la République in Paris to mark International Women's Day yesterday. Safia, Loubna, Christelle, Ingrid, Farid and Olivier (who preferred not to give their second names) say the increasing oppression of women in the banlieues of French cities is partly explained by the advance of militant strains of Islam but that it extends to women of French, African or eastern European origin who are not from Muslim families.

Any girl who does not adopt a submissive attitude, lowering her eyes when she sees a man, or staying at home most of the time, is regarded as a sexual target, they say. Gang-rapes of girls as young as 13 are common. Wives are often beaten up, and young women fear to go out on the street on their own.

Safia, 29, said that normal relationships had become impossible, viewed as a sign of softness on the part of the boys and promiscuity on the part of girls. "Sohane was just one victim among many," she said. "I have known 10 similar events. A friend of mine had her throat cut in front of her children because she wanted a divorce."

The demonstrators were ambushed when they visited Asnières in the northern Paris suburbs last month by an Islamic-inspired counter demonstration involving men calling themselves ni machos, ni proxos (neither machos nor pimps). The counter-protesters claimed that the publicity given to the protesters was reinforcing racial and religious stereotypes about the poor suburbs of French cities.

Comments