Neither sluts nor doormats

This week, the French parliament has voted for a law which forbids the wearing of the veil in school.

To be more exact, the law forbids any ostensible religious sign, which includes large crosses, Jewish kippas for example. But it is really the veil which is at the bottom of this business. The wish of the State has been to provide a legal framework to help teachers to decide if they ought to allow girls to wear the veil in classrooms.

The prohibition offends liberal sensitivities. The majority of western governments have condemned it. But according to public opinion polls, the law has been well received in France. Fadela Amara [1] is the founder of the organisation for the defence of women’s rights “Neither sluts nor doormats” [2, 3]. She explains to us why she thinks that it is a necessary law.

Girls wear the veil… there are different ways. I recall that because it is very important. There are those who wear it as a reaction to the violence which exists in our cities, worn by this minority of young women who are, as I say all the time, active and visible. So she wears it as a protective symbol because it is very hard to affirm and to take responsibility for her femininity in the heart of the city. And there are others who wear the veil. There is another group which wears it to… quite simply because they have an adolescent crisis, a search for identity, they are also a little bit the target of the politics of integration which has been led… even if I do not like the work integration – and define themselves either on one side or another, I would say, of a religious and cultural identity. This is notable in girls who go to school for example. And then there is the third category of those who wear the veil and whom I detest particularly, these are the soldiers of green fascism, as ‘green’ for the colour of Islam. So these girls are extremely dangerous in the sense that these birds who have the bac plus 5 [4] are very ordered in their thoughts. It is not these kids who have lost their heritage. No not them. They know exactly what they want and they are effective militants on the ground. And there are those who, in some places, generally from Friday to Sunday strut around the cities and are, by all appearances, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. There you are, it is the same strategy. So we also do the same thing and spread out behind them. So what I am trying to say… there it is.

Often, what’s more it is quite funny because often around an apartment there are parents who say to us: “Last weekend it was the veiled girls”. You must know that the parents do not want them. They don’t want them. It is more the leaders of the cultural associations who give directives saying “they must wear the veil!” or a brother or the social pressure of the city which does it, the wearing of the veil in the neighbourhoods.

So, personally I am very clear: the first two parties, for me there are two big opportunities that they may define themselves in a secular way. Then we can win a majority of girls. But this minority, in the minority of girls who wear the veil, it is hardly worth the trouble to argue with them. They are political women. So it is valueless. All arguments are going to sink, going to have no take-up, so it is necessary to fight them as we fight the extreme right quite simply. And this story of the just way, for me it is interesting even if it is not sufficient. It is that it is going to be imposed in the context of protection for the great majority or girls in the city who refuse to wear the veil. That is what interests me personally.

So we can put “visible”, “ostensible”, whatsit and all that tosh, that is what is left of this intellectual masturbation.

For Amara, the classical arguments of the liberals have no strength when confronting the offence that the veil represents.

Personally as a Muslim woman, I tell you, it is difficult for me to accept in my country including in private places that there be women who wear the veil because for me it is the seal of humiliation, it is really the oppression of women which is symbolised by the veil, it is discriminating. Because, what does it hide? It hides the fact of not going to the swimming pool; it hides the fact of not having the jobs which the guys want. It hides the fact that we are going to start, there again because we do not feel it, we have the feeling that they are going to do big studies and all that, you are going to see the boomerang effect that is coming soon, because that, it is like in Iran, they will be going to school and then one day boom! That is coming back. Well, there you are… And it is an extremely discriminating symbol, so that wants to say that we are not in the same class, of no value. I think that in the context of a secular society that women can be liberated, that women moreover, the individuals can be liberated, but it is true that I am attached to freedom of expression because I am a practicing Muslim woman and I love this liberty of expression because it allows me to practice my religion in a private way, to not offend anyone, that is the truth. But I hate the freedom of awareness which instrumented and manipulated becomes obscured. That is not acceptable. That is complete regression. That is what I am fighting against.

If she sees the law as a necessity that does not mean to say, for all that, that it is sufficient.

Having gone all around France and visited almost all of the cities, I remember that the movement did more than 800 events, high schools, schools etc. – I am convinced of one thing, and it is that young women are waiting only for one thing, there again you must go and talk with them in their own surroundings, they are waiting only for one thing that is to be told that they have their place in the world. But so that we can tell them that they have their place, we must consider them again, above all else, the State must stop meddling, to be quite clear.

The movement “Neither sluts nor doormats” was created a year ago, created by women who wanted to break the taboo on the violence of young men against young women. Today they claim 1750 members and some 30 local committees.

There is a kind of feminine or feminist awareness, I do not know how they can call it that, which has been pushed onto us, men, women, others returning to this movement because the equality of the sexes has an appearance more virtual than real and we would like that this reality become something stronger, a strong feeling for the men and the women and that the getting along together to which we aspire by something which happens everyday a little more; so there you have why I am engaged personally in this movement and also because we want to fight against all forms of fundamentalism with which our society today has business and it is an active minority, I ever stop repeating it, that the silent majority is going to start to make more and more noise.

Various tragic events have given resonance to the movement.

Several things happened which reduced the response to “Neither sluts nor doormats”. It was firstly the book by Samier Bellil that is “Enfer des tournants” (The hell of changing direction) which definitely denounced through its eye witness accounts of collective rape, and the death, the murder of Souane who was burned alive then in Vitry. These two dramas were able to reduce what we were busy denouncing in the cities. Then, starting from that, we put in place general local conditions, then the walk because by chance when we had launched in January 2002, then at the end of the general national conditions, some women of the suburbs, we sent a list of demands to all the politicians seeking election, at the time I recall that is was the Presidential election. Between you and me, I have a very bad memory what’s more. Well, something quite remarkable happened, that is our politicians did not answer. So then we thought and then put in place this walk which allowed us to carry the debate to public venues so questioning you, all of you, so public opinion and by rebound, the public authorities. Once we finished that we put in place this walk, 23 stages. Very hard, very tiring both for the moral and physically because everywhere we went there were very heavy accounts to carry and especially we discovered one thing which was still very hard and difficult for us to appreciate, that it is only in cities that we can get something happening. That is to say we set off to talk about one thing, that we talked about life in our neighbourhoods and we realised from the testimonials of the women and girls who came to our debates to give their story of the suffering that they were living, that they did not live in the cities, that they were in a state a bit more easy. We realised still that the state of women in general in our country is getting worse, when the appeal to the President of the Republic, during the Autumn University of our movement, which happened in the month of October, beginning of October, when we asked him quite simply that the state of women in our country become a national priority that that would allow us, all the organisation of course, to give content and in terms of content for making proposals for change eventually and that the equality of the sexes exist really in our country and that that does not remain really written in our constitution but that it becomes really real because one thing for sure is that in comparison to all that is denounced we love only one thing, not promises which must be made but rather those which must be taken into action on the ground.

The objective of the movement is not simply to protest but to build an alternative model of society:

The phases of construction, what are they? That is what our fellow citizens have asked us in truth, because it is not our first objective. We wanted to take the debate to the public but it is our fellow citizens who have asked us to create the movement “Neither sluts not doormats” and starting from there as it was a national movement, every where our fellow citizens have established local committees like the one here in Lyon for example. There are some 50 of them in the country which we have made quite quietly because we are a little team and so, there you are, what I am saying is that we are building right away on the local committees also putting in place projects, for example, we have put in place the project of the local centre, there is Myriam present here with Clothilde who are the managers and there is the psychological centre which was put is place because it was necessary also to respond to those young women who are in a very difficult situation and who come to see us. There is the management of emergency accommodation and then there is the reception centre for the protection of young women who are going to make a police report because that, it is necessary to have courage to go there without suffering consequences, but it is very clear, to be very, very honest, it is extremely hard and difficult and that it is going to be long, very long, because we are working a lot on the question of a change of views, and that is going to be the longest.

The work brings some rewards.

I would say that there is awareness and there is something which has got under way in our cities because on the one hand girls talk more and more, and that includes some boys, and the especially what I find extremely interesting we see it especially in the schools which are at the edge of these cities where we get involved a lot moreover with the movement “Neither sluts not doormats”, that it is at the request of the pupils or at the request of the teachers, well, we feel that the relations between the boys and the girls, for some of them, are changing in the right directions because some boys were not aware that they were, I would say, that they had extremely macho behaviour. And so by discussion, by debating with them, and also the fact that the girls were relieved to speak more and more, taking part in having them come in and taking part in this dynamic growth.

But to make a movement which lasts, it is necessary to do some serious work. The protestors of “Neither sluts nor doormats” are doing a “Tour de France” at this time to activate the once too passive. That will finish on the 6th March. Their message…

… to this silent majority. Wake up, come and join us one way or another, in any case take part in the debate that exists in our society today. To girls and to boys for whom the getting along together seems a bit difficult and who are victims of violence in their neighbourhoods or at the edge of their neighbourhoods that they wake up and say stop. Quite simply, as we did last year during the walk, we got up and we talked and there were more and more people around us, there were more and more of our fellow citizens, men and women who followed our movement because they recognize at the centre of this movement, because we defend strong values today of our Republic and as it is necessary that all these people are behind us on the 6th March in order to say “no to integration, yes to equality between the sexes, yes for the fight for women”, and for all these things because it is very, very, very important that in 2004 we are seeing that the situation of girls and of boys in our neighbourhoods and elsewhere, I speak the truth, elsewhere it is getting worse, and everywhere in the world they are looking at what is happening on the outside and that we are in a democracy today, that we are lucky to live in a democracy and that we must take advantage of it. So it is necessary to wake up, get up and walk and come on the 6th March supporting “Neither sluts nor doormats”.

[1] On June 19, 2007 she was appointed Secretary of State for Urban Policies in the 2nd government of French Prime Minister François Fillon. She reports to Housing Minister Christine Boutin.

[2] Ni Putes Ni Soumises, ISBN 2-7071-4458-4.

[3] Neither Whores nor Doormats: Women’s Rights and Human Rights in Contemporary France, ISBN 0-520-24621-7, English translation.

[4] Five years of education following the baccalaureate, is equivalent to a master’s degree.

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