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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La grande cause des femmes

by Dany Stive

Women - The Great Cause

Translated Saturday 19 December 2009, by Christine Rentschler

In 2010, the fight against violence against women will be the “great national cause,” [1] the first success for a collective of associations which initiated the project.

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In France, a woman dies from her husband’s or partner’s blows every 55 hours. This statistic goes a long way to shed some light on the incredible leniency where violence against women is concerned. The unacceptable tolerance triggered the creation of a collective of twenty-five different associations [2], which lobbied for a year to get the state to commit to choose women’s rights as the Great National Cause for 2010. Their goal has been reached : from January on, an advertisement campaign will be broadcast on prime time TV to carry the matter into the public arena. After a long time spent working in their own niche and losing their visibility, feminist associations will be back in the spotlight.

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Edifying Testimonies

Anne, raped and humiliated in front of her children, doesn’t dare to press charges, to get out of this living hell – Kavidah Bala, whose boyfriend set her on fire in Meaux a few days ago – Christelle, a former escort girl in Germany, who longs to get old and suffer from Alzheimer’s so she can eventually forget what happened to her – Fatoumata, a young French lady who was sent back “home” and forced to marry because her family thought she was too free and emancipated... From the very beginning of the campaign, the participants’ litany of testimonies could serve to discourage, but it actually has the reverse effect on the activists. There is simply no way this can go on forever.

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Changing Mentalities

“ These acts of violence are a result of the historical patriarchal system which is structured around the domination of women by men – and it is urgent to disconstruct it. This has to be done throughout society. It has to start with children, then move on to teenagers, who are so responsive to stereotypes,” says the spokesperson for the French Women’s National Council [3]. The associations want to change mentalities, and nothing less will do. In order to succeed, the campaign cannot be about the victimization of women.

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Let’s take rape for example : the aggressor must be shamed, and not the victims, who cannot continue to bear it. Another example : “crime of passion,” which is usually treated with the utmost leniency in our society and judiciary system, has to become a “crime of possession”. Every kind of violence, be it physical, sexual, psychological, economical or administrative, ought to be fought. The references to cultural relativism, habits and customs, traditions or religions cannot result in mitigating circumstances. The collective won’t wait until 2010 to pay attention to what the ministers have to say about it. In Sabine Salmon’s eyes, the government will have to support these associations financially, too. The collective commitment has no precedent in the Women’s Right Movement, and there is a price to pay : putting aside the differences will not be easy. The collective has forgotten the law that was inspired by the National Collective for Women’s Rights [4] and that was debated upon at the Assemblée two years ago.

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[1Every year, the French government declares one issue (cancer, Alzheimer’s, the fight against illiteracy...) to be “Grande Cause Nationale” - and reassigns a part of its budget to help promote it.

[2Planning familial, Mouvement du nid, Collectif féministe contre le viol, Mariannes de la diversité…

[3Conseil National des Femmes Françaises

[4Collectif National pour le Droit des Femmes


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