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For all the little girls who will become women
1 Jul 2010
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It is at the moment where the whole world around you tells you that you don’t have the right to leave, you don’t have the right to go to the movies, you don’t have the right to have a boyfriend, you must stay at the house to do dishes -- that we realize that the fight is never finished and that the rights of women are necessary to fight for. One must wake up the consciousness and fight.”

Ni Putes Ni Soumises. A vocal feminist organization based in Paris, which advocates for the rights of women and girls in France, especially those of immigrant origins and those who live in difficult areas. They combat for equality, secularism, and gender diversity through academic programs, psychological and legal aid for victims of sexual and domestic violence, legal lobbying, demonstrations, and protests. Interviewed July 2010.

For all the little girls who will become women

Is it difficult to work with women who are victims of violence? When you work with a population in difficulty, and you see the suffering and distress of others, sometimes, yes, it is difficult. There are situations that are dramatic, and as a human being, I can be touched by certain situations. But mostly, I stay professional. My work is not to cry with these women. It is to succeed at finding how to make their everyday life better.

Even if sometimes we have our limits and cannot find solutions for every woman, if at least they can leave here feeling heard and understood as a victim, for me, I say to myself, it is won. Even if a woman's situation is very, very complicated, she will come to see us and we will try to help. She will come and return, return, return simply because she needs to be heard.

The first day she comes, she is not well. Maybe by the third day, she will return, and there, she is made up, her hair is done, and at that moment, I say to myself, there is hope. Even if it is difficult, she is trying. Because usually when we do our hair, and when we try to make ourselves beautiful, that means things are going a little bit better than before.

So, there, is it hard? Yes, it is hard but at the same time, it is quite rich. One realizes also that humans have an immense resource. That’s to say, faced with a certain situation, I think that she has a capacity to deal with things that before maybe she herself wasn’t conscious of. Every day, that is what I discover: Human beings are capable of many things.

Truly, I love what I do. Naturally there are encounters where emotion is going to intervene at one moment or another,  but is it tiring? I want to say yes, because it takes a lot of energy, but at the same time, it is so important and so captivating that suddenly, the fatigue, you don’t feel it.

The mission of our platform is to listen, to inform, and to orient the women according to their difficulty. The goal is to give them a way to be able to help themselves, to survive on their own, in fact. They are finding themselves at a point in their lives faced with a situation that makes them need someone to help them.

Me, as the social worker—the platform consists of a social worker, a lawyer, and a psychologist—my work is to try to work with the social repercussions created by violence. For example, to ensure access to the law and to housing when the victims decide to set an end to this violence. We can accompany women to the prefecture or the commissariat to press charges.

The problem that we see the most here is the problem of domestic violence and family violence—violence by relatives, brothers, sisters, and also forced marriage. These are situations that create a lot of suffering and distress in the lives of these women.

On one hand, they experience violence. Then, foreign women who are victims of domestic violence, they will experience not only violence by their husband but they will experience violence by the institutions. Foreign women who married a French man or immigrants, they only get a visa in France because they have a spouse in France and there is a shared domestic life. When the shared domestic life ends, the prefecture systematically refuses to renew their visa.

It is even harder for these women who are doubly punished. There is a strong sense of injustice because they are  victims and the state does not recognize the statute in the law that says they can renew their visa if they are victims of violence. When the state refuses to renew their visa, these women will find themselves without anything. Their situation will deteriorate.

Every person who doesn’t have papers in this country can do nothing. They can’t work, so there is no money, so they can’t eat. They can’t even respond to their basic alimentary needs. They can’t have a social life, go to the movies, restaurants, or do what they want. She will no longer be able to pay the rent; she will no longer be able to find shelter. Thus, an example of this situation of the women I help. 

These situations generate great distress, unhappily, in the lives of these women. Our work is to help them through all these pathways to try and find more good than bad, to improve their condition a little bit.

There are steps they can take. When a victim goes to the prefecture to renew her visa and the prefecture says there is no longer a shared domestic life, even if there is proof of violence, she is obligated to leave the territory. Then, she must go through the appeals process.

Does the prefecture take into account the violence? In my eyes, I don’t think so. Many times, there are cases where the violence is very clear, but the prefecture refuses to consider it.  We must use the appeals process. Sometimes, a tribunal can demand that they reinstate the visa for this woman but sometimes not. So we continue. We continue the fight.

There are laws that enforce the fight again domestic violence. There is also a law that discusses psychological violence. Of course, that law is a great step forward for us. The difficulty is, even if a law recognizes psychological violence, how do you prove that this woman was subject to psychological violence? A blow leaves marks, it is visible, but psychological violence, one does not see it. 

Sometimes the testimonies of professionals who say, “Yes, clearly this woman experienced psychological violence” are taken into account. Psychologists have the power to make statements that describe symptoms of a woman who was a victim of psychological violence. That has a lot of weight. It is a big step forward that it exists in the law.

Also, there is a French law that recognizes marital rape. It is the same problem though: How to prove it? How do you prove that a woman was raped by her husband? The victim can report it and begin a judicial process, but it is too complicated because it must be proved. They consummate the marriage but how to prove that the marriage was consummated in a violent way and not consented to by the two parties?

Domestic violence, that’s the first problem we deal with here. Next is family violence, and forced marriage falls under the realm of family violence. It is the familial pressure on young women to marry someone they have not chosen. Sometimes, it’s someone who the woman doesn’t even know.

In these situations, we try to evaluate and see if the young woman had a choice. Usually, the marriage is at the initiative of the family because the woman is at a good age for marrying, simply, and the family is not going to ask for her opinion. She may have a job, a social life, be independent, but she must marry, and if she won’t choose her husband, they will choose it for her.

Either, she accepts the decision of the family because she doesn’t want to destroy that relationship, or she must be ready to say, “No.” Suddenly she finds herself in a dilemma. There is an expression: To choose between the plague and cholera. If she agrees with her family, she will find herself married to a man she doesn’t know and doesn't want. Or else she says, “No” and she lives alone. She no longer has connections to her father, her mother, her brother, her sisters.  Alone because there is a complete rupture with the family. Those connections are destroyed. It is not easy. Human beings are not made to live alone. If the young girl manages to prepare herself psychologically to the fact that she will not have her family anymore, it is possible to say no to the marriage.

We accompany her on this path, find her housing, see her moved out of the region to avoid repercussions. We help her find a life that she chooses.

Here at the association, we also have prevention actions. The campaigns for education and prevention, this is how we are going to make change. The difficulty we see is that girls often find themselves in a violent environment where violence is normalized. They say, “Well, my best friend lives the same thing as me. My other friend lives the same thing as me, and, so, finally, it is normal what I live.” But no, it is not normal. We go and meet these young girls to tell them that no, what you are living is not normal.

At this moment, they are going to realize and reflect and look for a path that will allow them to emancipate themselves. As long as one is not aware, that is the most difficult. It is at the moment where the whole world around you tells you that you don’t have the right to leave, you don’t have the right to go to the movies, you don’t have the right to have a boyfriend, you must stay at the house to do dishes -- that we realize that the fight is never finished and that the rights of women are necessary to fight for. One must wake up the consciousness and fight.

It is true that me, when I found out about NPNS, I wasn’t educated about the rights of women. I was not at all sensitive toward the issues. I knew the association because it was popular, but I did not question the rights of women. It was in doing my internship here that I realized that there is a lot more to do so that a woman might be recognized at the same level as a man. In discovering the movement, I told myself, “Clearly, there is progress but the road is still very, very long.” 

This was a completely random path. I never imagined myself as a social worker, ever in my life, nor as working at Ni Putes Ni Soumises. I never imagined it. It is just the path of life that at a certain moment, I found myself a social worker, and at a certain moment, I found myself as a social worker at Ni Putes Ni Soumises.

There remain many things still to do to wake up consciousness. There is a lot to do to try to educate children, to explain that just because one is a woman does not mean one is not strong. Just because one is a woman does not mean one cannot do as well.

Of course, there is progress, but generally speaking, there are still women who make much less money than men. That is unjust in the professional world. Same in the domestic sphere, it is the woman who is going to do more than the man.

That is why we are here, and each time we try to gain a millimeter, a millimeter, and then fight for that to remain because sometimes, the pressure of society is too strong, and things regress. We are here, like an alarm, to pull the bell, to say, “Things are not going well and everybody together must recognize women at the same level as men.”

Yes, hope, one must have it because if one does not have hope, the door shuts and then things will remain the same. What gives me energy and hope is to fight for all the women I receive here, that I will no longer have to receive victims of violence because their husbands beat them, because they find themselves without papers.

What gives me hope is to do a little bit so that a woman can be able to do what she wants with her life and do it how she wants. She chooses her life and she follows it as she feels, as she wants. 

So often, women are spoken of as the weak sex but, no, women are also the strong sex, because they are filled with qualities. They are dynamic, and they must also have the same rights as men.

In the end, all the little girls who will become women, my daughters, who will also be women later, that is what gives me energy. That all these associations will no longer exist because everything will be better, it is that which gives me hope. It is true that I am someone quite idealist but I believe it. I believe it strongly because at one moment or another, we don’t have the choice. Mentalities must change, society must change.

Community Justice Activism Advocacy
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