#JusticePourThéo: We must end police impunity and call their violence rape

Tongues are starting to loosen after the sexual police aggression on Théo in Aulnay-sous-Bois, France. More young men regularly stopped for ID check have come forward to talk about the violence always more humiliating and sexual, the insults of the police forces. They feel lawlessly trapped. Only 5% of the young people violently searched after ID checks file a complaint.

Moreover, as the press release from feminist group Femmes Solidaires pointed out, “What this crime tells us…is when a man wants to humiliate and dominate another man, he resorts to the same type of brutality as the one used to dominate a woman: rape.” They also note the uneasiness of the media to accurately identify this crime. For Femmes Solidaires, in the scale of police violence, pushing a baton in the rectum of a young man is a most serious crime and feminists must name what happened to Théo and other young men with the right word: rape. They exhort people not to turn a blind eye on this crime and conclude, “Silence tortures, impunity kills, invisibility condemns the victim to relive the same crimes.”

In addition to using rape, the police forces use homophobic and racist slurs regularly. The word “bamboula”, commonly uttered by police, carries its own colonial history. During a TV program, a police union representative admitted that although this word could be considered an insult, it remained tolerable. The anchor immediately reacted, saying “no” it is intolerable. In fact, “bamboula” is undoubtedly racist. As historian Mathilde Larrère explained, Bamboula is the name of a drum, which name became an expression of colonial racism. As she clarified, racism was born from the violence of domination and enslavement of populations to justify this very violence.

These expressions of racism shed light on identity politics as a way to differentiate the rights-bearing population from the rest that loses rights and can be mistreated, attacked and insulted. The ID checks are expressions of identity politics and the use of rape the expression of masculinity as a brutal authority.

Recently, a court decision in Bobigny, asuburb of Paris, on a similar case that occurred in 2015 has clearly stated that from now on a rape with a baton or something else committed by a police officer or not will be judged as a rape instead of violence. That decision signals what many have lounged for: police will no longer be granted impunity.

This is not over and the mobilization against violence and sexual violence cannot end with this decision.  More integrative measures should be taken to break the isolation and sense of abandonment of many “real” French residents who have been left out by the republic.

 

(Photo Credit: Liberation / Denis Allard)

#BlackLivesMatter, this time in France. #JusticePourTheo

Once more police violence makes the headlines. In France, Theo a 22-year-old young resident of Aulnay-sous-Bois, a northern Paris suburban city, was stop-searched by four special forces police officers few days ago. The search was aggressive verbally and physically; the telescopic (expandable) baton of one of the police officer was forced in the anus of the young man. Theo, who is black, was insulted with slang racial words including the N-word.

The police officers sprayed tear gas into Theo’s mouth, then dragged him, handcuffed, to their car. Theo was in excruciating pain covered with his own blood. Once in the police station, another police officer immediately called the SAMU (emergency medical unit). The doctors were appalled to see the damage on his body with a 10cm (3.5 inches) tear in the rectal region, with a perforated rectum; he was rushed to a hospital operating room. His injuries are serious with possible life damage. He has to keep a fecal diversion with colostomy probably for the next few months.

From Aulnay to the rest of France, the outcry was broad. Mothers of “the city of the 3000”, the neighborhood where Theo lives with his family, led demonstrations. Singing the Marseillaise to affirm that France was their nation, they also said that they were fed up with the police acting like “cowboys”. They expressed their immediate concern, demanding if their sons would be the next one to be raped by police. Some said “we are not here to be on television; here we have doctors, engineers, but we are suffocating.”

They want justice not only for Theo but for all the youth of “les quartiers,” these suburban neighborhoods that have been left out of urban policies. Meanwhile, Theo’s case is in the hand of a lawyer ready to address police violence with his case.

A former police union leader, in charge of security for the right wing political party “les Republicains” was recently elected mayor of Aulnay sous Bois. He based his campaign on law and order. Although he extolled the virtue of strong police presence, he condemned this police violence calling it unbearable and unacceptable. He understood that this time the usual argument that the victim because of his police record somehow deserved the treatment inflicted on him would not work as Theo and his entire family have had exemplary lives. In his surprise visit, even President Francois Hollande played the good guy argument in an attempt to calm down the boiling cities fed up with state and police violence.

The delinquent deserving police aggression is a political argument that has been used repeatedly in recent years to justify increasingly violent police intervention and ID checks based on profiling, including statistical profiling.

Theo’s case was referred to the Defender of the Rights, “an independent administrative authority that oversees the protection of rights and freedoms and promotes equality to ensure access to rights”. This authority had warned President Hollande about the unnecessary character and lack of supervision of ID checks, to no avail. In 2016 the Defender of Rights published a report stating that the youth that had the color of Africa, north and sub-Saharan, were 20 times more subject to ID checks. The report documents discrepancies in the treatment of populations, based on appearance, age and location of the control. The numbers show a degradation of the situation in the suburban areas with only 5% of these young pursuing legal actions against police abuse. The president of this authority declared that Theo’s affair was not a short news affair but a societal and political affair. He insisted on the importance to question these “random” ID checks poorly reported with no actual legal justification,” adding that the police of the republic should be the police for equality.

In 2009, the National Center for Scientific Research showed that in general the police control is determined by the clothes worn as well as the color of their skin, rather than something that done by the young people checked.

Part of the stigmatization or disqualification as full human being is in the language and attitude of the state authority. They are systematically addressed with “tu,” the informal you. According to the Defender of Rights, the informal “you” is used in 40% of the control of the young men of these neighborhoods compared to 16% for the general population. They are also insulted in 21% of the cases compared to 7% for the rest of the population.

The vast majority of the ID checks have no legal or investigative basis, but they are very effective in making feel the young person not belonging and always under scrutiny. Despite the recent riots, the inhabitants of these neighborhoods are committed to assert their proud presence against the constant humiliation and stigmatization encountered. People nationwide are supporting their call for dignity.

ACAT, an association dedicated to fight torture, produced a comprehensive review of the situation in France. Between 2005 and 2015, they counted 26 casualties caused by police, of whom 22 were people of color. Last summer, for example, Adama Traoré died in police custody after. The family is still demanding an explanation as to why he died.

Depoliticizing state violence is a way of justifying it. Many reports have demonstrated that something needs to change in the national policies that mistreat and racialize the youth in France. In this electoral period the stakes are high and the struggle to stop the disqualification of citizens calls for solidarity, as the mothers of Aulnay-sous-Bois demanded. It is part of the struggle for immigrants’, refugees’ and women’s rights. In this time of enmity when victims are made the culprits, people in France need to join the resistance.

 

(Photos Credit: Bondy Blog)

The Women’s March: “Our march forward does not end here”

In this moment in which we see racism and State violence unleashed against some of us, the Muslim citizens of our world, let us return to an event that said NO to sexism and therefore racism. On January 21, the women’s march on Washington launched the day after the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. The march brought together a multitude of demonstrators in Washington DC as well as in every other major city in the US.  Additionally, sister marches in 100 other cities in the world were formed. According to the Women’s March organizers, about 5 million groups walked in unison that day.

In France, the march was preceded, on January 20th, by a “day of engagement with women” on France Culture, a public radio station, which called the event “the long march of women” and suggested that we are seeing a great leap behind. Each program addressed various sections of the struggle for women to be a full being, whether they had been revolutionary, colonized, proletarian, mothers, and the list went on.

While the march was not announced in many other media, the demonstration in Paris numbered in the tens of thousands. All the signs expressed the various feelings and worries about the struggles past and to come. For instance, one sign, held by an African American woman living in Paris, said “Impeach that creep” on one side and “vote out Le Pen” on the other.

Another sign, in French said, “Together against all the Trumps, visible or invisible, of France, the United States and of the world”.

 

The United States’ example reminded many that every right gained after long fights can always be threatened and dismantled by the patriarchal order like the right to sexual and reproductive health, including the right to have access to free abortion and contraception. For this reason, the French Movement for Family Planning was widely represented, knowing that although this right is part of the French constitution and actively enforced, the extreme right looms over it ready to use deceitful strategies to dismantle it.

We met with three young Americans, English teachers in Marseille, who came to Paris to demonstrate. They were from New York City; Richmond, Virginia; and Birmingham, Alabama. They talked about racism, inequality, and intersectionality. They sang, “We shall overcome.” We also met with Genevieve Fraisse, a renowned French philosopher and historian specializing in feminist thoughts. She reminded us of the importance of organizing and that she had been an active demonstrator before being a philosopher. She talked about disqualification rather than discrimination. Today with the official realization that refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim countries are banned, the notion of disqualification of some as not having the same quality as human beings as others resonates.

Here’s our interview with Genevieve Fraisse:

(Photos and interview by Brigitte Marti)

 

Women, the invisible migrants

While the US election demonstrated that abject racist, anti women, xenophobic speeches lead to power; people continue to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Last month another 90 people died off the Libyan coast. 3800 persons seeking safe land drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since January 2016. The UN ‘s refugee agency predicts that 2016 will be the deadliest year despite about 700 000 fewer people having made the crossing compared to 2015. The likelihood of dying is one in 88 arrivals in 2016 while last year it was one in 269 arrivals.

The European obsession with stopping the crossing of people escaping war zones – signing shameful agreements with the violent and authoritarian Turkish president, increasing surveillance forcing smugglers to use less detectable rafts – has created more hazards for women, men, and children. The preservation of migrants’ lives come after catering to populist mindsets and vested interests.

This year, the number of women and children migrating for survival has outnumbered the number of men, with 60% of the refugees being women and children while they were about 30 % last year. Women face more hardship and gender-based violence with an increase of war violence committed on women.

None of this is new. In 2010 Smaïn Laarcher looked at the violence, persecution, and death threats that women faced on the road to exile. He described the various agents of violence denouncing the denial of humanity to women, which led to sexual torture committed in total impunity.

Meanwhile, once in Europe they can be stuck in places like Calais in France. In 2002, the UK demanded the closing of the Red Cross camp of Sangatte, on the pretext that the French authorities had been too lenient with the refugees. Then, in 2003, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister of France, signed an agreement to control migration to the United Kingodm. The treaty is both complex and simple; it turns France into a police structure for the UK preventing the English-speaking wretched of the earth with family or friends in the UK from crossing. This treaty has created misery and the camp of Calais also called the “Jungle.” The latter was recently dismantled.

The hardship and suffering of the refugee women has been mostly invisible and ignored. Where are the women who are trying to escape violence in increasing number? According to the NGO France Terre d’Asile, in 2015, in the department of Pas de Calais about 1000 women migrants lived in various camps including in “the jungle”. 120 of those women were minors. Many NGOs have worked to help these women. All the aid workers say the same thing, “We don’t see them.” They only walk in groups at certain times of the day; some have created their own women-only campsite in a field.

There is a place in Calais, the Jules Ferry Center, that receives about 300 women in a safe environment. The doors are locked; only the women can decide to go in and out. Even personnel have to get clearance. A spokeperson for the center explained, “They don’t want journalists in because they don’t want people to look at them like circus freaks.” They are safe in this center; they have access to psychological support as well as medical care and they can stay with their children; but this is not enough. Women can be invisible and attacked in refugee centers that have not been conceived for the safety of women, as it has occured in Germany.

Gynecologie sans frontieres (gynecology without borders), or GSF, is a very active NGO in the camps. They provide care, sexual education and access to reproductive services including abortion, and they treat women with respect. In France, abortion is free for all women.

While women may have been raped and need and demand access to abortion when pregnant after the rape, they also face all kind of issues coming with constant patriarchal violence. They have a chance to talk when they meet these helpers.

Sometimes women sell their bodies for money; a network of pimps prowls the camps. They may be also the smugglers who get paid that way. The clients are not only the migrants but also the local inhabitants.

A world of silence is wrapped around the women’s bodies. The migrant women should be able to find their own words to explain what happened to them. GSF has designed methods to liberate these voices in an attempt to make the invisible migrant women visible. The volunteers of GSF or other NGOs want to help them to reclaim their rights and dignity but it should be again a collective responsibility.

As we have seen with the election of a sexual predator who is ignorant of UN treaties, the western elites are increasingly showing their disdain and disregard for international treaties to protect women, children, civilians, and the environment, in order to galvanize the most racist energies for electoral gain and power. In this period, women are becoming increasingly vulnerable and migrant women are invisibly dehumanized. Once again solidarity is required!

 

(Photo Credit: Gynécologie sans frontières)

WIBG Radio: Luz Mora: Women’s rights are in danger with the rise of extreme right propaganda

In France, a collective of feminist organizations, unions and political parties brought the press, including Women In and Beyond the Global, together to launch an important website, Women’s Rights Against Extreme Rights. This website is a response to the deceitful ambiguities that the extreme right movements have developed to seduce the disenchanted electorate, especially women voters who have traditionally voted in lower numbers for the extreme right.

In order to gain these votes, the extreme right National Front party has adopted a slightly different strategy compared to its counterparts in Eastern Europe. The president of the National Front, FN, Marine Le Pen, daughter of the former president of the party, has pursued a campaign of “de-demonization” to soften her image compared to her father’s antisemitic, racist and anti-women diatribes. She managed to evict him from the party while still receiving financial support from his side. She has even presented herself as a feminist invoking the words of Simone De Beauvoir, the French iconic feminist intellectual. Le Pen likes to show herself as a normal working mom who divorced twice and who shares the value of most feminists.

But there is a lot to worry about with this cunning double talk, said Suzy Rojtman, one of the three spokespeople for the group at the press conference. She added that women’s rights are an important voting argument for the extreme right parties since women’s issues are often defended across party lines, in a country that provides free access to abortion and contraception.

When Marine Le Pen declares that she will respect the abortion decision of 1975 she also added that abortion will be de-reimbursed, throwing in that she would combat “comfort abortions” suggesting that it is too easy to get an abortion in France. She commonly blurs the discourses on reproductive rights and unemployment, basically proposing to create a minimum revenue so women won’t have to work while claiming abortion rights are too costly for the nation, therefore damaging the social system.

She even modernized her discourse about homosexuality. But none of that is confirmed by the votes of the FN’s MPs. The FN representatives voted against the bill on real equality and against the bill against sexual and social harassment in the French parliament, and in the European Parliament they voted with their colleagues from the extreme right from Poland, Hungary, Malta, and elsewhere, against the Estela report, the Zuber report and the Tarabella report respectively addressing the respect of reproductive rights and equality between women and men in Europe.

The FN also presents itself as an anti-system party while actually voting for austerity and neoliberal measures.

One thing Marine Le Pen expresses clearly is that the perpetrators of violence against women are immigrants and the lack of respect for family values. Ludicrous assertion, says Suzy Rojtman, and how can she said that since in France ethnic data are not allowed. Their claims in favor of the defense of Laicity hides their basic xenophobic approach opposing real non-Christian based laicity.

The new website shows the solidarity of feminist organizations with unions and political parties that do not always work together. This website will also provide tools for activists on the ground.

Luz Mora, from the Association VISA, an anti-fascist association of unions, discussed these issues with us.

 

(Image Credit 1: Women’s Rights Against Extreme Rights) (Image Credit 2: A l’encontre)

In France, Urvoas’ prison decision: More prisons, less humanity

Fresnes Prison

Fresnes Prison

In France, last August, Prime Minister Manuel Valls with his Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas advertized that a feasible and concrete plan would be announced soon to remedy the carceral disgrace of French prisons and jails, plagued with overpopulation and squalid conditions. They talked about building 6000 cells. This week, the Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas declared that 10 000 to 16 500 prisons cells will be added.

The minister made the announcement from Fresnes prison, an aging prison with about 200% occupation rate. As a congressman Mr. Urvoas opposed the building of additional prisons. Now as Minister of Justice he has succumbed to the populist vision sweeping Europe of increased imprisonment for more security. Consequently, the budget of 3 billion Euros would be mainly invested in bricks rather than in alternative restorative justice programs, as inscribed in the last bill passed by former Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira.

Instead, Mr. Urvoas declared that the administration would be adding cells, not places or spaces in an attempt to nuance the decision. This rhetoric comes from a principle of law conceived in 1875 in the French legal system that said that each detainee should have his or her own cell. In Fresne for instance they are 3 prisoners in a 9 square meter cell (30 square feet).

On the day of the announcement the French Public Radio France Inter recorded its programs in Fresnes in an effort to bring to public attention the reality of this shameful situation. They interviewed former detainees, a warden’s union representative, judges and penal counselors for reintegration, and Adeline Hazan, the president of the magistrate union, an independent body that controls all places where people are deprived of liberty.

The former detainees and wardens made clear that the place looks like a 19th century prison, filthy and sordid. They called prisons like Fresnes a pressure cooker for disaster. The union representative insisted that their mission should be to work with the detainees on their reintegration. This mission is made unattainable. In addition, in Fresnes, women’s quarters are 6 times smaller. Women are the forgotten population in prison.

The director of the prison explained that the detainees are eager to participate in activities, but, because of the lack of personnel, access to them is limited although mandated by law. Many would like to work; there too there are limitations including low wages and the non-respect of labor laws applied outside. In this environment of frustration and humiliation, it is not surprising that 62% reoffend within 5 years after their release. By comparison, only 32 to 34% who have received alternative sentences reoffend.

Many criticized Mr. Urvoas’ proposition. Magistrates explained that the judicial system is becoming harsher, emphasizing that because of the lack of appropriate budget and public pressure in this period of instability the judges are often forced to send the convicted or pretrial person to prison and jail.

In 2014, Christiane Taubira passed a bill that should have made alternative sentences the common law. Her idea relied on another principle: the principle that prison should be the last resort. Despite claims of good intentions, this law has not been enforced with adequate financial means. Meanwhile, private contractors are entering the jail and prison world, following the neoliberal search for investments with fast returns.

In France, 11 000 out of the 68 000 detainees are sentenced to 6 months and 28 % of the carceral population is in pretrial detention. If most of these sentences were commuted into open-space alternative individualized sentences, as prescribed by the Taubira’s bill, the population in jails would decline rapidly.

The approach adopted by the French Government signals yet another alignment to the logic of incarceration and tough-on-crime policies in the context of pre presidential election, with the combination of fear, security and neoliberal investments looming in the background.

 

(Photo Credit: BrunodesBaumettes)

Free Jacqueline Sauvage, domestic violence survivor, patriarchal (in)justice prisoner!

In France, the case of Jacqueline Sauvage captures the inability of the justice system to do away with patriarchal rules and with prison as the essential means to assert punitive power. Jacqueline Sauvage’s story is the archetype of the effects of repetitive domestic violence. In September 2012, Sauvage, the daughter of a victim of domestic violence, shot her husband in the back, thinking that this time he would carry out his brutal threats, after 47 years of constant and ferocious abuses. She feared for her life one time too many.

The couple had four children, one boy and three girls, all raised in a climate of violence orchestrated by the father. The family is a middle-class family that runs a small business in Montargis, in central France; all these years of abuse, nobody dared say anything. The daughters were sexually abused and the son verbally abused. The son reproduced the climate of violence in his own life. He committed suicide the night before his mother killed her husband, but she did not know that when she killed her abusive husband.

Jacqueline Sauvage was accused by the prosecutor of faking or lying, arguing that she and her daughters never pressed charges against the husband/father oppressor. She lived in fear of retaliations; moreover she was under his control.

In France only 14 % of the women who declare having been a victim of violence file a complaint. Every year, 134 women are killed by their respective partner. In addition, 90% of rapists are known by their victims; 37% are their husbands.

Jacqueline Sauvage’s defense attorneys relied on a self-defense argument to save their client from more punishment. The court dismissed the argument and sentenced her to 10 years for aggravated murder. Another court dismissed the argument a second time in appeal. Meanwhile, the case became emblematic of the lack of support for women victims of domestic violence.

Then, Jacqueline Sauvage’s lawyers sought presidential pardon. They obtained a partial pardon, which means that it allows the justice system to grant remission but does not change the charges. She was still convicted of aggravated murder. The pardon skillfully did not challenge the status quo.

Finally, two weeks ago, a court decided that Jacqueline Sauvage would remain in prison despite the presidential pardon. The judge declared that self-defense cannot be applied, and she should have responded to the violence of her husband with proportionate action. With mass support, Jacqueline Sauvage is now appealing this last decision.

In the patriarchal code of justice women are still held responsible of their situation, particularly cases of abuse. In refusing to free Jacqueline Sauvage, the judge has normalized violence against women, making clear that revolt for abused women is unacceptable, even unfathomable. This long and painful story demonstrates one more time that women’s well being and rights are still a burden that lies on women’s shoulders, no matter what outfit they are wearing!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Grazia) (Photo Credit 2: 20 minutes)

Will France choose to follow the U.S. and build and overcrowd more prisons?

Adeline Hazan explains the rise in number of detainees in France

Adeline Hazan explains the rise in number of detainees in France

Last week, with media in tow, Manuel Valls accompanied Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas, who replaced Christiane Taubira, to Nimes prison, one of many overcrowded French prisons. Located in southeast France, Nimes prison is designed to receive 192 prisoners but currently holds 406 prisoners. Nationally, the number of detainees has reached record levels. Since 2010 the number of convicted prisoners went from 45 583 to 49 340 in 2016, but more significantly the number of remand detainees has moved from 15 395 in 2010 to 20 035 in 2016.

The previous president Nicolas Sarkozy instituted a martial discourse of intimidating governance based on penal populism and social ostracizing of social and racial minorities. He envisioned building new prisons to “accommodate” 80 000 more inmates.

Urvoa’s predecessor, Christiane Taubira tried to reverse this trend with her reform, passed in August 2014, to make incarceration the last result. Focusing on restorative rather than punitive justice, Taubira’s reform created penal counselors for reintegration as well as alternative sentences. The reform passed, but implementation has been to slow to none, thanks to a justice system that has followed the global trend of imprisonment as a social and governing instrument in a time of global violence. Recruitment of the counselors has been slow and underfunded while alternative sentencing has been ignored by a hardened justice system that has responded positively to the populist call for a repressive justice. The number of liberations under the control of the counselors has been reduced by 20% in one year. A Union representative declared that, instead of emptying prisons, the reform has filled them because the magistrates don’t play fair.

At the end of their visit to the Nimes prison, the head of government and his minister of justice declared that they would come up with a “specific, concrete and financed plan” to remedy the problem. They announced the building of more prisons to add 6000 beds, still largely inferior to what the right and extreme right political elite is demanding. Despite the few good moves such as the opening of “observatoire de la récidive et de la désistance” (Observatory of repeating offense and crime exit), as well as Jean Jacques Urvoas’ stated commitment to enforce the sentencing reduction bill, the funds have not been allocated.

In a climate of fear in which the “radicalization” of Muslim youth in France is offered as a source of violence that has to be fought in the most brutal manner, the political elite has given a radical and superficial picture of the situation in order to impose prison as the immediate and natural solution to all problems.

Meanwhile, a regime of urban marginality is reinforced with increased incarceration, making prisons and jails the instruments of violent isolation and ostracism. The over representation of populations of Muslim descent in prison mirrors the over representation of minorities in US prisons, with some differences of course. Will French elite choose to follow the American model of building and overcrowding more prisons?

In response, Adeline Hazan, the “contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté” (an independent body that monitors all places where people are deprived of liberty, and checks that fundamental rights of people in these places are respected) insisted “the more prisons we build, p the more we will fill them.” She added that carceral inflation year after year is not the solution and lamented that the law of 2014 has not been applied properly, and case-by-case sentencing, which was the heart of the Taubira’s bill, has not been implemented.

In a public radio program Hazan explained that according to French law, prison should remain the last result. The quantum leap in the number of short sentences demonstrates the opposite. The prison suicide rate is also rising with 90 attempts a month. Most of the attempts occur during the first days in prison. The suicide rate in French prisons has increased from 4 to 19 between 1945 and 2010, seven times more than outside of prison. The number of pretrial detainees is also on the rise. The state of emergency and its violent policing of demonstrations has sent many to pretrial detention.

Adeline Hazan remarked that women, who are only 3.8% of the detainees, have seen the degradation of their conditions of detention as a consequence of the over populated male prisons. She added that it is like a double sentence for women. The institution that she presides has produced numerous reports to alert the authorities about these situations. She noted that it is hard to be heard in this context of hard line security propaganda. Nonetheless, she acknowledged one of their recent victories in the elimination of incarceration of pregnant women.

In 2017, France will hold presidential elections. In France’s pre election climate of fear of terrorist attacks, the tough on crime approach seems to be the main message used by the political elite while neoliberal budget restrictions of public services increase and aggravate the inequality and abuse of those left behind in French society. In his most recent book Achille Mbembe has called this the “politics of enmity”. Prisons are places of enmity and gender racial discrimination: we don’t need more of them.

 

(Photo Credit: Ouest France)

Radio WIBG: In France, in Saint Denis, Ghada Hatem opens a Women’s House

With Ghada Hatem holding, Inna Modja cuts the ribbon

With Ghada Hatem holding, Inna Modja cuts the ribbon

Two years ago Ghada Hatem, head of OBGYN at the Delafontaine Hospital, in Saint Denis, envisioned a Women’s House in Saint Denis, in the heart of the suburb of Paris that symbolizes immigration tensions and social precarity in France. Last Friday, the Women’s House was formally inaugurated.

Born in Lebanon, Ghada Hatem was fifteen when the civil war started in 1975: “It is probably what gave rise to a medical and social vocation in me.” She came to France to study medicine and choosing OBGYN as a specialty came naturally. She has always imagined exercising her “art” within a team.

Thanks to extraordinary teamwork, the Women’s House project went to completion. The day of the inauguration, a passionate and committed crowd was present along with some officials, all of them inspired by the project.

The Malian/French artist and singer Inna Modja has decided to be the benefactress of the Women’s House of Saint Denis. In her commitment to social justice, she has used her artistic expression to denounce female cutting, linking it to her engagement to end violence against women in general. As she explained, after she was cut in Mali when she was 5 against the will of her parents, “I fought to heal myself,” she remembered, first through surgery and then “step by step, I found the energy to become a woman again.”

Ghada and her colleagues received the surgical training to “repair” women who have been cut but as Ghada explains the repair is both physical and psychological and it is never a full restitution, the “scar” remains.

The House will offer many ways to address the trauma including support groups with the collaboration of Inna Modja.

While located within the hospital compound, the House has an independent entrance open to the street. Its role is to allow a free, intimate access to women who have already experienced all sorts of violence and humiliations: a place for them and with them. The need is enormous. The OBGYN department receives about 120 different nationalities and amid the 4500 births and 1000 abortions every year, and about 14% of the women had been cut. The medical system is not enough to help these women to recover their dignity.

This house should serve as a model to be reproduced everywhere it is needed.

Let’s listen to Ghada Hatem’s interview.

Ghada Hatem

Ghada Hatem

 

(Interview and photos by Brigitte Marti)

Women say NO! to the new labor laws in France and across Europe that attack women

Once more, labor laws and work conditions are under attack in Europe, this time in France. The labor code of France, a heavy book, probably needed some cleaning up as laws had piled up and sometimes were redundant. With the encouragement of the Medef (the union of employers), the current government has undertaken to reshuffle all the principles of labor protection. Using a rare executive order (Article 49-3 of the Constitution), the French President passed a bill that was once opposed by the same Francois Hollande, who then called it undemocratic. Since his action, a movement to remind the government of its democratic responsibility has grown, and demonstrations and strikes succeed each other daily.

The Medef has argued that to create jobs employers must be able to fire more easily with fewer constraints that guarantee employees’ rights. So the French government offered a new labor law that has the potential to erase the type of labor protection that is the basis of labor rights. The bill was largely inspired by other labor bills passed in other European Countries under the aegis of austerity measures. Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Greece, Spain have passed bills to feed the exploitative neoliberal system with precarious labor contracts, called zero hour contract in one place and one-euro jobs in the next. In Greece, despite all the critics, the Troika imposed its memoranda making firing very easy. The minimum wage is now at its lowest level (511Euros for those under 25) and the social security system, which was efficient and inexpensive, is now close to being totally destroyed. Additionally, the dismantling of labor rights is very handy in making migration another source of marketization.

In France, the opposition to the bill first came from the students, who are fairly well unionized in high schools and universities. They immediately organized, understanding that this law would create a transitional system to precariousness for the youth, either for intellectual work or blue-collar jobs. Soon after many unions joined, including the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), CGC (Confédération générale des cadres), and FO (Force Ouvrière). Meanwhile, Nuit Debout (Night Standing Up), a rather spontaneous movement, gathered in public squares in various French cities, including Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, and beyond.

Like other European labor bills, the French labor law is a double sentence for women. The bill ignores women’s rights while asserting its respect for the principle of equality. The bill’s language actually razes all means to attain this infamous gender equality. Flexibility supersedes gender equality. The law will limit the bargaining power of unions and fragment their negotiating power; it will aggravate the asymmetrical relationship between the employers associated with the financial oligarchy and the employees or the labor force in general. The obligations of employers toward their employees will be reduced tremendously. It will reduce the number of days off and possibilities for days off that made the leave of absence system a model for labor organizations.

The notion of flexibility has been used as a mythical term for progress while it’s real meaning for working class and particularly for women is increased precarity. In France, women make 80% of the part time labor force. Women also perform 80% of unpaid domestic work. The employers union never discusses this reality. Flexibility means lowering additional pay for extra hours, reducing delay for notices, and easing the firing process. This assault on workers’ time is a double assault on women workers.

The bill will also weaken the occupational medical system that has provided strong medical protection for employees. The risk in feminized professions of lowering the standard of protection is more than real.

Across France, mobilization is high. Feminists have been in the forefront, sending petitions and organizing demonstrations. The movement is also picking up in Belgium, for the same reasons. To understand what is at stake today, we should reread Emile Zola on the disastrous condition of the working class during the industrial revolution and especially women’s conditions. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit 1: 20minutes) (Photo Credit 2: France24)