Hats off Madame Simone Veil!

In France, feminists and humanists are mourning Simone Veil, the emblematic woman who in 1975 presented and defended her abortion bill in the almost exclusively masculine French parliament.

She has been perceived as a rebel and she would say that she never accepted that women had restrictive rights. As a young magistrate in charge of prisons from 1957 to 1964, she changed the extremely repressive conditions of women in prison. During the Algerian War, she acted for the rights of Algerian political prisoners putting in place a strategy to curtail the execution of male Algerian prisoners on death row. Meanwhile she also worked to stop the mistreatment of Algerian female political prisoners, regrouping them in a special unit under far better conditions where they were able to pursue their education.

Simone Veil knew what being in prison meant, having been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau when she was 16 along with one of her sisters and her mother, who died in 1945 from exhaustion and typhus after they had been transferred to Bergen-Belsen. She survived the worst with an extreme desire to salute and respect life. She always said that she kept the memory of her inspiring mother at her side always, especially in her fight for the respect of women’s and human rights.

Among her other achievements at her various positions in the French administration was the recognition of dual parental control and family legal matters, rights for single mothers and their children, and adoption rights for women.

In 1974 Simone Veil became the first female full minister in a French government. The previous attempt to have women in an administration occurred during Leon Blum’s Front Populaire government in 1936 with 3 women nominated “sous secretaire d’etat” (Undersecretary of State). At the time women did not have the right to vote in France.

Simone Veil’s first legislation was to have contraception recognized in the French Health care system, removing the financial burden of contraception.

The event that made her feminist stand highly visible was “la loi Veil”, the bill to legalize abortion in France, that passed on January 17, 1975. Remarkably, she was in a center right government. The bill was fully supported by the left but not by the members of her own party and she needed some of their votes to pass it.

The bill itself was cautious and called for improvement but it represented a necessary start. France had some of the most restrictive laws for women with the Code Napoleon still wielding its patriarchal control of the nation. However, things were changing, feminist movements were increasingly visible and the solidarity for the recognition of sexual and reproductive rights in the French law was total.

Importantly, the principles for the existence of the bill didn’t revolve around the right to privacy but rather around the social impact of the code of silence and hypocritical stand against women’s right to access abortion. About 300 women would die every year in France from botched abortions. The slogan “abortion to the rich and punishment for the poor” was chanted in demonstrations for abortion rights.

With this bill, Simone Veil placed abortion in a context of contraception and not murder while addressing the responsibility of society in confronting the social needs of women of all socio-economic backgrounds, including elements such as financial coverage of pregnancies, childcare, and health care. She later established paid maternity-leave.

Simone Veil relied on a strong feminist movement of solidarity to achieve the advancement of women’s rights. For instance, in 1972, the lawyer Gisèle Alimi transformed a trial against a young woman who had an abortion after a rape and the women who helped her, including her mother, into a political scene for the cause of women’s rights. She had supported Simone Veil in defending the rights of the Algerian women prisoners, and remained her eternal ally and vice versa, although being from different political sides.

During the debate, Simone Veil asserted that the fetus was not yet a full human being. She used the WHO statistics about pregnancies and the flimsiness of life, to remind that 45 pregnancies out of 100 miscarried during the 2 first weeks of pregnancy. She emphasized the embryo as a becoming not a being, as opposed to the woman who is pregnant. She claimed that the legalization of abortion was an absolute necessity to keep order while normalizing the role of women in the society.

Despite all her precautions, she had to face the most violent opposition from her own party, with anti-Semitic, racist and sexist slurs invoking images of Nazi times against her. She explained later that she found her strength in the memory of her mother and her own battle to stay alive. In 2008, in an interview, she said that she still received hate mail for her role in the liberalization of abortion in France. But she never flinched.

While Minister of Health she continued her battle for the women’s workplace rights, imposing recognition of the status of nurses and other positions in majority held by women. She also pushed for the increased presence of women in medical institutions at the upper level.

She was also a staunch supporter of reconciliation between France and Germany and an architect of the European Union. In 1979, she became the first woman President of the European Parliament. There she worked restlessly for male-female parity in politics. She always believed that affirmative action was the only way to change the mentalities and to guarantee better presence of women in every section of the society. She always reminded people that it would benefit the entire society.

In 1995, after the scandalous episode of the “juppettes” (short skirt) terms that symbolized the exclusion of women from Chirac’s administration, Simone Veil was part of group of ten women, five from the right and five from the left, who had held ministerial responsibilities to work on a manifesto to obtain female-male parity in public representation. They asked the candidates to the next presidential election to sign it. The female-male parity is now in the Constitution.

In 2008 after being elected at the Académie Francaise, she reflected on the situation of women in society, acknowledging that although access to contraception and abortion were crucial for the independence of women, women were still the target of basic discriminations: workplace inequality, underrepresentation in positions of power, undervalued societal roles and often perceived as fillers.  She ended that interview by recognizing that the way for women’s rights was long and added that the climate was still not in favor of women.

Simone Veil has been described as a radical feminist and a radical humanist. She described herself as French Jewish laic woman who rebelled against male domination and all sorts of domination and adopted the European ideal “united in diversity.” She practiced solidarity with a resolute vigor always joining the cause of the defense of the most vulnerable.  May her courage and unshakable capacity to denounce sexism and xenophobia and to build coherent resistance be an inspiration at the time of constant challenges for human and women’s dignity. Hats off Madame Veil!

 

(Photo Credit: Le Monde)

It’s election time in France, and women’s rights are on the agenda!

Laura Slimani

It is election time in France! It is a decidedly contested race, and women’s rights have gained some visibility in this unsettled political context.

Marine Le Pen, the extreme right wing candidate has used deceiving methods to attract women’s votes while her party’s anti women’s rights vote at the European parliament reach a perfect score. The website “Womens’rights against extreme rights” was launched at the beginning of the campaign to debunk her fraudulent claims.

In an unusual move for France, the right wing candidate Francois Fillon made religious claims on women’s right to abortion, demonstrating its reluctance to apply strong public policies to improve women’s rights.

The center right candidate Emmanuel Macron former minister of Finance in Hollande’s administration has defended measures that have increased women’s precarity. Still, as a candidate he claims that he will support women’s rights in general terms.

Candidates on the left, such as Benoit Hamon or Jean Luc Melenchon have shown more determination to articulate a program that includes important feminist demands. Melenchon’s campaign published a document entitled: “Equality between women and men, to abolish patriarchy”. Hamon’s campaign has produced documents as well. Both are very similar in their approach to increase representation of women.

We talked with Laura Slimani, a spokesperson in Hamon’s campaign, and she shared with us some of their vision on women’s rights.

 

(Photo Credit: Huffington Post / AFP) (Interview by author)

For women’s rights and gender equality, the State must spend time and energy to change people’s minds

Najat Vallaud Belkacem

Najat Vallaud Belkacem’s first position in government was as Minister of Women’s Rights, in Francois Hollande’s administration.  She became only the second Minister of Women’s Rights ever in France. The first, Yvette Roudy, served under President Mitterrand in the 1980s. Najat Vallaud Belkacem became the first woman Minister of National Education, her current position. We met her in her office to discuss what has to be defended and improved in the realm of gender equality and women’s rights in this period of electoral uncertainty.

As Minister of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, her actions were marked by her commitment to collective work with women’s groups and associations, prodding legislators into enacting laws for the furtherance of women’s rights and gender equality. Under her administration, legislation against sexual harassment, in favor of additional protection for women victims of violence, and to make abortion and contraception completely free was passed. Protection for abortion centers has been reinforced. She asserted that “abortion is a right in itself and not something dependent on conditions.” She also worked for legislation to reinforce the notion of education of gender equality starting in “maternelle” (pre-kindergarten, a public school in France). She accomplished much despite a meager budget. The politics of austerity also hindered access to public services such as abortion centers. In the deleterious political climate with the rise of the extreme right, she also faced racist slurs. Nonetheless, she secured important headways for women.

Sincere and relentless political engagement became her way of action for gender equality and women’s rights. Her message for us is that, to secure women’s rights and gender equality, the State must spend time and energy to change people’s minds. Here’s our interview:

 

(Photo Credit 1: Mounir Belhidaoui/RespectMag) (Photo Credit 2: Phototèque Rouge/Marc Paris/ RespectMag)

#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)