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We talk of love
1 Jul 2010
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“There is solidarity in the quartier. It’s important. They don’t talk about it in the media. They talk about gang rapes, the burqa, but they don’t talk about this: There is an agency.”

Voix des Femmes. Voix des femmes is an association that fights against forced marriages and honor crimes. Interviewed July 2010.

We talk of love

This association was founded by a young woman from the quartier[1] named Nadia.

Nadia, when she was a minor, she was a victim of forced marriage. She didn’t have the right to go out; she was beaten regularly. She spoke to a school social worker and he believed her. He said, “You’re going to be protected,” except under the ruling of a judge she was not protected. The judge said, “It’s your culture, you must submit.” 

She was sent away from France to Algeria by her family. She stayed sixteen years in a village. She couldn’t run away because it was a remote, lost village with mountains and mountains. She was there for six years before she was able to come back to France. 

I knew Nadia when it was beginning, the war in Algeria. We met at a demonstration for peace in Algeria.

I think we don’t do this work by chance. Me, when I met Nadia, it was a beautiful encounter. In life, we often have beautiful encounters, and I was recruited.

At the beginning, Nadia, she wanted to create an association to raise awareness because forced marriage was not considered a problem. Nadia was doing an internship in an association, which no longer exists, called the Les Nanas-Beurs and Les Nanas-Beurs was a little bit like SOS racism. But Nadia didn’t want to make an association primarily on racism or the ethnic origins of people. She wanted to make an association founded on a specific type of violence.

The distinction was important. At the end of the 90’s, everyone said, “Don’t talk about forced marriage because you are going to stigmatize the immigration population.” I recall, right at the beginning, we contacted SOS racism, so they might help us with a young girl and they told us, “Don’t speak of these subjects because you are going to worsen racism.”

All of the sudden, it was quite hard. Nadia and I, we were all alone. They said to us, you’re giving a bad image of the community. We didn’t expect that.

 Then, we had the luck of going to a seminar organized by the association Femmes Contre les Intégrismes [2] in Lyon. We were invited, and we met activists from all four corners of the earth. We met activists from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, Palestine. They said, “Don’t worry, we can cover all the subjects of women’s rights that people are encountering” – and they encouraged us.

We entered the seminar really filled with energy. We didn’t give a fuck what people thought because Nadia, she dared to be called a traitor; me, I was made out to be a colonist.

I remember when we were there, in one of the meetings, there was a French woman named Corinne who spoke of forced marriage, and they said, “Don’t speak of forced marriage. Don’t speak of it. You’re really going to stigmatize certain populations.” That was the word they used: “stigmatize.”

Only, the week just before, there was Habiba from the association “Les Nanas-Beurs;” she had said exactly the same things about forced marriage and everyone listened because her name was “Habiba.” Corinne, they’re going to call her a racist for talking about it. The cultural relativism of certain professionals was truly difficult. I said, “Wait a minute, you want us to do something or not? There are girls who are going to be married by force and raped. They can be Arab or Black; it does not mean when they are raped, they feel less bad." 

I have the impression there are still professionals who consider the girls we help not as women but as immigrants. Before being women, they are a part of an ethnic group, and that bothers me.

For example, in January, I helped a couple—we are going to call them Romeo and Juliet. I’m not saying their origins because they are still in danger of death.

I received them here. The boy wasn’t doing well. He had received death threats from the girl’s family. It was really risky for them. It was so bad that for the first time in twelve years, everyone in the office slept here, everyone.

I called 3919. I got a girl who told me, “Seeing their origins, we advise you call another association,” but it was 9:30p.m. If I’m calling you it at 9:30p.m, it’s because everything is closed, and it’s not a question of ethnicity. It is a question of life or death. Either you give me a shelter or you give me nothing but you give me a response quickly. 

In addition, I was annoyed because she gave me the name of an association called Elele,[3] and they had closed. Plus, they help Turkish people and the couple was not of Turkish origins.

So what did I do? I called a woman in the neighborhood I helped eight years ago. A very good woman who, after a few months, invited me for mint tea at her home, and we had become friends. It’s the first time I’ve become friends with a woman I helped.

I called her, and I explained the situation to her, and she brought me blankets. She brought me food. She brought everything, everything, everything. There is solidarity in the quartier. It’s important. They don’t talk about it in the media. They talk about gang rapes, the burqa, but they don’t talk about this: There is an agency.

Me, I call them the invisible feminists. No one speaks of them. It’s the micro-resistance, daily, over several years. You don’t see the results right away, but the results are there. There, that woman, she is feminist, but she doesn’t know it.

In the work we do, we need to encounter other people like this in order to keep going. Otherwise, it’s hard.

For example, at the Marche mondiale des femmes, which took place in June, I again saw many activists I met ten years ago. That did a lot of good for me because I feel a little alone sometimes.

Me, outside of my work, I don’t speak of the work I do. When I am at a gathering, a wedding, I don’t say what I do because I don’t want to defend myself. I protect my energy for my work and for my personal life as well. We need to be strong. It’s not an easy career.

It's also true that in my family, there were women victims of violence. We don’t do this work randomly. I know that I have a grandmother who was a victim of domestic violence. Me, I couldn’t stand that. I couldn’t stand my grandfather. I don’t have respect for that man.

On the other side, why didn’t my grandmother leave? In her time, there was no shelter. If you leave, you go where? 

We also can never act in the place of someone or judge their situation. When we receive a person, we receive them at that moment, at that stage in their life. We absolutely cannot tell them, you must do this. They have several choices. Also, in general, the girls we receive are the fighters. They don’t stand injustice. 

Me, when I was little, I was against racism. I wanted to be a lawyer for children. I did law and after, I worked in different quartiers. I understood quite quickly that if you don’t act, it does nothing. So I did everything that was human rights, immigrant rights, then I stopped. I was tired of it. 

I met Nadia, and I said, “It is good. That’s what I want to do.” Then, I took classes for two years. These studies, they gave me a certain legitimacy and allowed me access to resources.

My studies were on the rights of women through every point of view, historic, sociological, psychological, political. I don’t regret it. To take up studying again at thirty, one does not have the same mind as before, but at the same time, we have another perspective. 

I did my thesis on a protection network for victims of forced marriage. I did another report on cultural relativism as a factor of worsening sexist discrimination. I did another report on the Islamic websites for women. With the young girls that I help, they know Islam forbids forced marriage, but they go on the Internet for more information. The problem is that on these sites there is a lot of manipulation, a lot using Islam for sexist means: “Go back, women, to the house.” “Wear the veil.” So I wanted to look more closely at that.

I am happy to have done these studies because I had access to a lot of Canadian, American, English, and Indian resources. In fact, in France, we are a bit behind. In France, we are just beginning to talk about gender. In France, we use these big words. We talk. Talk does nothing for me

Unfortunately the first political parties to have spoken of forced marriage officially in their platform are the extreme right. That poses a real problem. These parties ask us to do more and more  in the communities but don’t give us more resources. We have the same resources as before and less sometimes.

For example, with the question of shelter, there is less space, the associations have less money, and there is more need. How can we do it? Then, there are the finances. That bothers me because we work more and even if we have more funding, we don’t have the funding necessary to really help women.

Right now the funding that I’m asking for will be to put in place a working group for repatriation,[4] like they have in England. Here, repatriation is not organized like in England. It depends on the budget. It depends on the number of victims. It’s very haphazard. One problem we face is the question of which country is financially responsible for the repatriation of a victim of forced marriage. 

For example, last year, in January 2009, we tried to repatriate a young woman of Turkish origin. She was sequestered and at risk for an honor crime and France did nothing. Instead, we advanced her the money and it was her boyfriend who paid it back. I tell you, we cannot keep advancing money because we don’t even know who’s going to pay our salaries in January. I would have to advance personal money, except I don’t have a huge salary. I don’t know how I would do it. Except that girl was in danger of death! Really, there, the consulate of France in Ankara messed up. That’s serious. It’s very, very serious because they could have a death on their conscience. A death.

What is terrible is that since the young girls are immigrants, they have the impression that they must make them pay. You see? Make them pay in every sense. For me, a young girl, whether she is of Moroccan origins or Malian or Turkish, it’s a woman, a human being. End of story. 

As of today, we only repatriate French girls. Luckily, there are counsels in France that are great and repatriate girls who are not French as long as they have their visa. There are countries with whom that’s going really well. With Pakistan it’s going really, really well. With Algeria, it’s a little complicated. We struggled to repatriate a girl last year. The consulate of Algeria didn’t care. We told them, she’s going to be married by force Saturday. We let them know three weeks in advance. Algeria didn’t care. With the consulate of Pakistan, they do it in three days. 

Some associations say it’s out of the question to pay for the plane tickets of a young girl when the plane tickets over here were paid by the family allocations. But if we inform the parents that we are going to repatriate their daughter, they would sequester her. They would try to marry her off or kidnap her. It’s incredibly dangerous.

In addition, what we want to put in place, under the English model, is to start seeing missing girls reported as rapidly as possible. For the young girls who have disappeared, don’t wait.

For example, Nadia, the founder of Voix des Femmes, when she was sequestered in Algeria, no one was worried that she didn’t go to school in September. She was not at school. Normally, you would be worried. We had big discussions in France on school absenteeism, and here, everyone’s talking about it. There, no one reacted.

In the good academic establishments, the head of the school, in September when the girl is not there, he worries. Even if she disappears in February, he worries. In the quartier, poor areas where we are, no one gives a fuck. One more, one less. It’s terrible.

We need to put in place at least a system. In Germany they did something quite good. If a young girl is afraid of not coming back to Germany, she signs a paper on which it’s written, “I am leaving for vacation. I don’t know if they’re going to marry me off but maybe. I am afraid. If I don’t come back, I would like the Germany and Turkish authorities alerted.” If she doesn’t come back, they try to find her. In Germany it’s simple because their immigrants are almost all Turks. We have many different countries, so it’s complicated.

We just want to report cases as quickly as possible because when you repatriate a girl quickly, you can also prevent her from getting pregnant. It costs maybe five hundred Euros a plane ticket or maybe one thousand Euros, but if she must get an abortion and stop school, that is very, very expensive, especially for her health. I’m speaking of her psychological health because when you are pregnant with a child you don’t want, it’s very heart-breaking. Her academics are ruined. She must stop school, and a young girl, once she is pregnant and if she can’t abort it, there are some who have trouble loving the child. It’s very difficult. You see, it’s costly. It’s costly to the future of the young girl and the French society as well.

What we want to put in place is a cost right now but it has positive impact on the economy and society in several years. In addition, the money is not for us. We would like the state to take its responsibility. It’s not for us to take money for ourselves. It’s to put in place services like exist in England. In France, we proposed this solution. 

France is really behind, among other European countries, in the protection of women. Unfortunately, the society is sexist toward all women, whether they are immigrant or not. One must not forget that French women have had the right to vote only since 1944. Turkish women and Algerian women and Iranian women voted before us. The Declaration of the Rights of Man, up until 1944, applied only to men. It’s crazy. There is still a 22% difference between men and women’s salaries in France. The masculine violence, it’s a reality. They beat us because we are women. They rape us because we are women. 

Yes, in November 2008, there was a French official who killed his wife and afterward killed himself. They did one minute of silence at the Assemblée nationale for him. For him. Not for his wife. In addition, he killed himself. He was not courageous. He killed his wife and then committed suicide. In France, in the Assemblée nationale where they vote for the laws of the country, they held a moment of silence for him.

Even in the law on rape, there is a little paragraph that asks that the state take into account the women’s sexual history. The actual law says that a married woman is presumed to be always consenting to sexual relations with her husband.

           We are faced with a very particular government. 

          On the question of forced marriage, the law changed in 2006. First, they expanded the criteria and the time limits for ending a marriage. They also increased the age of marriage to eighteen years.

Next, in the penal code, they introduced aggravating circumstances: Blows, wounds, barbaric acts of torture perpetrated by families toward a young girl within a forced marriage. I would really like for the law to say that within a forced marriage, rape is an aggravating circumstance. However, the law on rape in France considers that a young girl being raped by her husband is not an aggravating circumstance. 

In other European countries, it's worse. They chose to create a non-specific infraction for forced marriage. That means, they put an article in the penal code that says that all people who try to force someone to marry face two to five years in prison and a fine. What if she is sequestered, kidnapped, or a victim of murder and rape? In those countries, the judge does not even consider the more serioues infractions like murder attempts, sequestering, acts of torture, rape, criminal acts. Suddenly, the women are no longer women or human being victims of torture and barbaric acts. They are immigrants, and the judge is going to judge merely if the marriage is forced or not. It’s very vicious.

I am against this law but in an intelligent way. I want to modify certain parts of the penal code to include aggravating circumstances. We did an entire campaign of writing, pleas here in France so that we can have protection measures to help the women we serve. 

What’s complicated is not to change one’s discourse under political pressure. There are associations that change their discourse in order to have funding. During our campaign, I know that I did not change my discourse. At first, I was very afraid because I said to myself, “We’re going to lose our funding." If you had seen me six months ago, I was tired. Too tired. I could no longer do it. The law is a very political subject. We were all the time in debates. 

Then again, exactly one year ago, there was a broadcast of parliamentary studies to prepare the law, and we were not featured. I said to myself, we are the only association in France that fights solely against forced marriages and honor crimes and they forget to include us. We were not featured and I knew it was because we are in the quartier; we are considered not competent; we don’t have experience of the nation. That hurts the heart because it’s not the truth.

We told the officials we are national experts. We do interventions in Canada, in Morocco, in Belgium, and in our own country. They tell us we are from the ghetto. It’s just disgusting. 

Instead, all the associations that were not featured made a little cooperative. For three days, we met up with each other, and there, we had a beautiful encounter. We said, for them to hear us, we must write something artistic. We used culture. We contacted a slam poet,[5] and he wrote a magnificent text. We sent it to all the officials, the senators, the press. We even made a clip of the work. That was important because it strengthened me. 

The work we do is difficult. We know that we are not many. We are not many. But we didn’t change our discourse. There are things within an arranged marriage that must be seen as aggravating circumstances. If the parents find themselves before the judge, the parents should be seen also as accomplices to rape. In many cases, they sequester their daughter in a room. If it’s locked, she cannot escape. She is fourteen; she is with a guy who’s thirty. They didn’t lock her in there for nothing. There, you say to the parents, what you’ve done is not only a forced marriage. It’s a rape. And what’s more, you are accomplices.

One must stop taking immigrants for idiots. If you tell them it’s a rape, they understand. There are parents who do that for the good of their daughter, but they understand that if they locked their daughter in a room with the husband, he is going to rape her. 

The families anger me. Sometimes, I say, why are they doing that? But we know why. It’s to control the sexuality of women, but they ruin the life of their daughter.

What’s crazy is that the most effective way to get a girl to go to a country to trap her in marriage is for her mother to tell her, “If you don’t marry, I’m going to die.” These girls, I tell them, “I’ve never seen a mother die in twelve years. I’ve seen girls die. Kill themselves. If your parents tell you that, don’t believe it. Don’t believe it.”

Me, I met a woman from Bangladesh. They told her, “If you don’t come to Bangladesh, your grandmother is going to die.” She went. They didn’t tell her it was because of a marriage. She didn’t say no. It was just a trap. Other families tell young girls, “If you don’t marry, I’ll send your sister in your place.” So she sacrifices herself. At once, she sacrifices herself.

In the same way, for example, a young girl's parents don’t hit her to prevent her from leaving, but she internalizes the idea that if she goes out at night, she will be a whore, so she doesn’t go out at night. It’s not normal. I say, “You can go out at night.”

Since their childhood, we teach girls never to say, “No.” The young girls who are forced to marry, they did not say, “No.” They did not say, “Yes.”

I remember I helped a woman. She was twenty-five. She told me, “I understood I was married by force the day I fell in love.” She was a Spanish professor, and she fell in love with her colleague. She said, “I was never hit. They just told me, you’re going to marry this man. They told me he was nice. I was eighteen. For me, my parents wanted the best for me. I accepted it, but I never had pleasure. I never loved him.” If she had never fallen in love with the French teacher, she would’ve stayed with the man. It’s weird. She realized at twenty-five, twenty-six.

It’s exceptional because there are young girls in opposite situations. I receive girls—especially Pakistani or Indian girls—who tell me, “Since I was twelve years old, I knew I was going to be married, and since I was twelve years old I knew that either I would run away or I would kill myself.” Can you imagine? At twelve years old? Because they saw their cousin married off, they saw it. It’s violent. It’s super violent.

There, it’s true I say to myself, we must raise awareness in schools, from the youngest age, to teach girls and boys, especially girls, to say, “No.” To have them accept their individual liberty, their choice, before that of their parents and their community.

Then, I have another role, too— it’s that I do presentations in schools. I love that because it’s nice to do prevention. Even if you don’t see the results right away, you know that if you do a presentation before a class of 30 people, there may be one person who says to themselves, “Maybe I have the right to stand up for myself.”

In addition, when we do interventions in schools, we don’t only talk about forced marriage. We talk about the freedom of choice. We talk of love. We talk of the choice of love. We talk of AIDS. We talk of many things. The choice of love, it’s important, and then we try to talk about the control of sexuality.

Forced marriage is linked to sexuality. It goes from the question of virginity up to honor crimes. Among certain populations, if you refuse a forced marriage or go out with someone of your choice, your life is in danger. It goes from the control all the way to death.

In fact, I try to use universal themes in my presentations. You see? I speak of injustice because if I speak of feminism, they do not understand. The moment you say feminism, at thirteen, they say, “What’s that?”

It’s true that I use the word “injustice” a lot. I make comparisons between sexism and racism and other injustices. For example, in France, there is a law that says that if you are French and commit a crime, you go to prison. You serve your prison sentence. You get out. But if you are foreign, you get out of prison and they deport you to your country of origin. That’s called the double standard. I speak to the students about that.

I often tell them a story that happened to the son of the butcher where I buy meat. In fact, his son was impossible. He made huge foolish mistakes. His father sent him to Mauritania and came back with a death certificate as if his son had died. The son then was married by force there. He’s alive. But if he goes to the Consulate of France, he is officially “dead.” He cannot return to France. It’s horrible.

When I tell that story, the students say, “That’s horrible. It’s unjust to do that,” but they don't always react like that to the stories of the girls. I try to make comparisons between the reasons for which they force girls to marry and the reasons for which they force boys to marry. The boys, it’s when they are older. They’re going to force them to marry because they are sexual or because they did some prison time. They are a little delinquent. The girls it’s just because they put on a miniskirt or someone saw them talking to a boy in the street.

I also intentionally mix sexism and racism because that speaks to them. Racism suddenly makes them react. For example, I receive a lot of young girls with Maghreb origins, who go out with a boy who is of Senegalese or Malian origin, so black. In the film we show them about forced marriage, the girl, Noura, is involved with a boy named “Ibrahima.” We chose that name because we liked that name and there are many young girls who date boys named Ibrahima. When we showed the film in classes, right away, the students say, “Ah! Noura’s going out with someone black.” We didn’t know Ibrahima is a name carried by black boys. At once, the girls said, “Noura was forced to marry someone else because she dated someone black.”

When they said that, I said, “Wait, you find that fair? You find that normal?” After, we discuss that issue. Since when are we going to punish girls? Because we are punished. Boys, they do what they want. Obviously, if they start to go to prison, or be homosexual, that becomes serious.

In these discussions, I always cite the laws of the countries of origin. Most countries say that forced marriage is illegal. Like that, the students understand then that it’s illegal everywhere. I try to place it in a truly universal context. It’s not only France. It’s not only The Declaration of the Universal Rights of Man. It’s many, many countries together. We are numerous fighting against violence and it’s strong. Sometimes the students are not even aware. “Oh, it’s forbidden in Algeria? I didn’t know.” They don’t know. It’s not their parents who are going to tell them that. In any case, their parents don’t even know the laws.

Then, when the young girls tell me, “I am going to marry for love. I am going to do halal—a religious marriage before an Imam—I don’t need the French law. I don’t need the Moroccan law. I am going to marry who I choose before God,” I tell them, “Hold up. I am not doing a religion course. In your opinion, what is the point of a civil marriage?” I tell them a civil marriage protects children and women.

I have a friend, her sister was naïve. She got married to a man before God; she was married before an Imam and three months later, she realized that he insisted they be married only before God because he was already married. He was polygamous. I tell them that sometimes in classes. It makes them afraid. I make them afraid; I do that intentionally, so that they understand.

Yes, I make them afraid, but one must make them a little afraid so they say to themselves, the French law, laïcité,[6] it’s not something against God; it’s something that protects them, protects the fundamental rights of people. It’s not anything else.

I tell them, if you do a religious marriage, and you get pregnant, and the guy dumps you, what are you going to do to prove that he’s the father of the child? There are girls who say, “Well, God sees all.” God sees all, but as long as you are alive, help yourself to the laws that are there. 

They talk way too much about religion. I find that worrisome because they are very naïve. With the religious law, it’s anything goes for women. Women are not protected by the religious law, as far as it is applied in France.

More and more Imams refuse to perform religious marriages if the couple is not civilly married. More and more they apply the French law.  Unfortunately, the girls who are married by force, religiously, it’s by other Imams, the Imams who don’t respect the law and nothing for that matter.

Me, I like the time we have to talk to young people.  Because we talk about choice and love, sometimes the young girls come to see us not about forced marriage but to say, “I had sex with a guy and I am pregnant, what can I do?” We can inform her. We can put her in touch with the school nurse.

I also have an entire workload of lobbying and fundraising to do. When I have the time to write, I do all the grant-writing. I don’t like raising money. I do it at night because I don’t have the time. The extra hours are not paid. I don’t want to say that, but it’s important to say, all the same, because there is a part of the work that is “normal” salary, and there is a part that is activist. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just that we are tired. We are tired.

Happily, I am going to the mountains for fifteen days for a vacation, but it’s my vacation from 2009. I didn’t take it then. We have too much work. There are normal days where we help people but then there are also days where there is urgency. As we work with different countries, when young girls are sequestered in their country of origin, sometimes they are countries in different time zones. When you have 24-hours to repatriate a young girl from Pakistan, and if you have the consult at 9 in the morning Pakistani time, it’ll be 3 in the morning here. So we have a little bed in the office. That couch doesn’t look like it but it’s a bed. 

Happily it’s not every day that we have urgent situations, but it happens that we need to stay here. I never work at home. I prefer to sleep here. I lock the doors well because it’s also a difficult job.

Our days here are never the same. It's always changing. Last week, we helped a boy who hadn’t heard from his girlfriend since Friday night. Monday morning she had called saying, “I was married Saturday. At night between Saturday and Sunday, the husband tried to rape me but I got away,” and Sunday he raped her. The boyfriend was crying. We had to do an emergency alert to the public.

When you do an alert, you must not make a mistake. It must be very precise in order to find the person. In fact, we had no information. We didn’t even have the address, but she called from her own cell phone, so we had that. The police knew where she called from. We stayed late to find her.

In our work, there is progress. Things move. Not at the speed we want but they move all the same. After, I don’t have much more hope than that.

People of today, they don’t care about the rights of women. They don’t realize that there are women from my mother’s generation who fought for contraception, for abortion, for liberty of women, for all these rights. These rights need to be valued and used.

The question of rights of women, it is progressing, but it could regress as well. We don’t know what’s going to happen.

I don’t see budgets for these issues. It’s easy to make a law. Then, one must do a lot of trainings and awareness-raising and it’s necessary to do quality work. We need budgets for that and time. Now, I refuse to go before the police for just a half-hour. We cannot teach them about a subject in half an hour. One must have a half day or an entire day. Violence against women is a subject people have trouble understanding. Sometimes a woman presses charges then withdraws her charges. One must tell them that it’s part of the cycle of violence.

On the question of forced marriage, people are even more lost. The police say, “She is Muslim.” We say, “Even if she is Muslim, forced marriage is forbidden by Islam. If you receive a young girl, tell her that the French law protects her. Her parents say it’s Islam but it’s not Islam.” They understand. 

In any case, they’re not going to say, “I’m racist.” Instead, they say, “The families are going to say I’m racist so I can do nothing.” I tell them, “You have the right to know Islam, and if that’s going to protect a young person, than even better.” Sometimes, in reverse, even if they are not afraid to be racist, one could say it’s the collective French thoughtlessness. To give you an example, one time there was a police officer who called me. He told me, “I have a young girl. She is locked in her room. We don’t know what to do. She is sheltered at her aunt’s. Her father succeeded at finding her. He wants to take her away. She locked herself in the room and she wants to kill herself.” He told me, “It seems that she is going to be married by force except the marriage is not yet done. What do we do?” 

I say, “Wait, that’s a kidnapping attempt. You have a penal infraction that exists to address kidnapping. It’s not something else. Her name is Fatima but her name could be Charlotte. She locked herself in her room because her father wants to kidnap her and take her. That’s called a kidnapping attempt.” He told me, “I didn’t think of that.”

We can’t blame this police officer. He is not informed. He didn’t think of it because he didn’t see. So often the media tells us about fundamentalism, immigrants, the veil, forced marriage, excision, everything, that sometimes they forget common sense.

The police are not even the most complicated to change. In fact, once you give them little pieces of information, they react very quickly. The most complicated is the national education. The nation still has trouble with forced marriage. 

I don’t know why the national education is very difficult to change. It’s very hard. Sometimes, the social worker or the school nurse or professor tells us, “I have a small problem. The principal thinks that if we talk about this sensitive subject, the families are not going to be happy. They’re going to say we brought an attack against religion.” Hold up. They are afraid to bring an attack against a religion? I say, “No, we don’t even talk about religion. We are not going to cite verses of the Quran. We’re just going to say Islam forbids forced marriage.” That’s enough. We’re not going to amuse ourselves citing verses of the Quran all day.


We do education of the citizens. That’s essential. 


Beyond that, I have a dream. Because we have new activists who want to put in all their energy and their budgets into the question of feminism, we’d like to create Equality Courses. They would be consciousness-raising courses, awareness-raising courses, and courses to learn how to lobby.


I met the head of a school that exists in Morocco, and it’s a school where, whether you’re a young person in the quartier, or an academic, or an elderly person, or a teacher, or a police officer, you can go to learn about equality between men and women.


I dream of doing a school like that where the materials for teaching are not only theoretical but we also have role plays, we have art, even music. We would like activist poetry.


Here, we teach Slam poetry. Now, we are in the midst of organizing Slam workshops for October. We’re going to do them with parents, young people of the quartier, so that they engage. We know there are people who are against forced marriage, but we don’t hear those voices. We’d like for people to hear them.


Anyone can perform if they want, and if they are afraid to get on stage, the Slammers read their text. That culture allows a certain informality, and what is beautiful is that it is poetry. It’s not the usual songs or usual texts that you are going to hear. It's is very powerful. It’s very beautiful.


Already in workshop we have a young girl of Indian origin registered. There is a mom who is going to register who must be forty-six years old, and she was married by force at age fourteen. She came to show the photo of herself at fourteen. She was magnificent looking. She left her husband at thirty-six. You see, it’s weird. There, it’s a woman who is my age and she’s had twenty-two years of married life by force. This woman, she doesn’t speak French very well but when she says things in French, it’s magnificent. It’s philosophy. It’s poetry. For example, she told me—« Il aurait pu me donner un château en or. Je voulais juste un toit pour moi et mes enfants qui me protège de la pluie et de la neige[7] Because she lived in a region where it snowed a lot. She said, “I left, he called me, and he told me I was not to return.”


That is the name of the Slam text that we sent to the officials when we were lobbying: “Don’t come back.” Yes, her text was the text we used for the Assemblée nationale. I know it by heart. Her words speak truly about going toward one’s destiny. Change one’s destiny and have a better destiny. 


She has a very Moroccan accent but when she says things in French, sometimes I have goose bumps. Magnificent things can happen in those workshops like that.



[1]Quartier: Also referred to as the cité or quartier populaire, the housing project suburbs that ring major citiesin France; these poor and working class districts are often isolated, packed with immigrants, and rife with violence.

[2] Femmes Contre les Intégrismes (FCI): Association founded in 1995 that fights for equal rights for men and women “on both sides of the Mediterranean

[3] Elele (Migrations  and cultures of Turkey): Association created in 1984 with the goal of favoring the integration of Turkish immigrant populations in France.

[4] Repatriation:The process of returning a person back to one's place of origin or citizenship. In cases of forced marriage, a girl may be a French citizen with origin from another country. Families often send them back to the country of origin for a forced marriage. In other cases, immigrant men in France send for a bride from their country of origin, thus girls are brought into France for the purposes of a forced marriage. The repatriation process aims to restore them to their country of original citizenship. 

[5] Slammer: Performance poet of spoken word poetry, often referred to as “Slam poetry.” 

[6] Laïcité: French secularism, the absence of religion in government affairs and public space. 

[7] He could have given me a castle of gold. I only wanted a ceiling for me and my children to protect me from the rain and the snow.

Community Justice Activism Advocacy
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