women against islamic misogyny | 10.08.2003 21:56
Such stories, then, are not just about urban crime and rough neighborhoods. They reflect a core issue of Muslim integration in Europe. Can the young men and women of the cites break out, or will they become ever more isolated, turning inward against themselves? Will they build their lives and relationships on egalitarian values, or on the worst of Islam and the Internet? Young men trapped in a world with no jobs and no future, and violently confused about sex, tend to make women the symbols and the victims of the frustrations around them. Ten years ago, the boys in these hoods burned cars in the streets. Today, they increasingly turn their anger against “their” women in the basements of their apartment blocks.
Recently, a few young women of the cites have begun to fight back. One organization in particular, Ni Putes, Ni Soumises, (roughly, Not Whores, Not Servants), has been organizing protests and speaking out so loudly that the French public and the French government have taken notice—and sympathized. In one grandiose gesture on Bastille Day, July 14, huge photographs of 14 women from the cites, posing as Marianne, the symbol of French liberty, were hung on the columns of the National Assembly looking out on the Place de la Concorde. Will these girls’ fathers and brothers now show them as much respect?
That looks to be a longer fight. “Sexuality has always been a thorny issue in the quartiers ,” says Safia Lebdi, 29, who is one of the first members of Ni Putes, Ni Soumises, and could be a poster girl for confident, in-your-face sexuality. The other day she was wearing a pink see-through top, low-rise cargo pants and soft, beaded slippers. Born into the cite outside Clermont-Ferrand, where Michelin makes tires, she knows what she’s talking about when she says that “feminist thinking never reached the ghettos.” Girls, for their own protection, have taken to wearing loose-fitting track suits or veils over their hair. “They’re locked up in a world where their fathers have failed to break out of unemployment, where they have failed at finishing school or finding a job,” says a young woman activist with another group, Female Voices, Rebel Voices. Lacking hope or the opportunity for a better life, she adds, “all the men have left is their virility.” And some have savage ways of asserting it.
Late last year, two events galvanized the women of the cites. A young woman named Samira Bellil published a book, “In Gang-Rape Hell,” recounting her experiences in the ghetto, including twice being subjected to the tournante —men taking turns using her, one after another. She urged her “sisters in suffering” to speak out before they lost all self-esteem. Then reports hit the press about another —incident even more gruesome than those before it. A 17-year-old woman named Sohane told off an old boyfriend, and he burned her alive.
So it was, earlier this year, that the eight young women of Ni Putes, Ni Soumises came together and began touring France to publicize their plight. They weren’t sure what they were doing or where they were going. But they knew they were fed up. “We were f—-ing scared,” says Lebdi. “We were heading for the unknown.”
Unknown then, perhaps, but no longer. Today, all of France knows of them and their cause. They have been received in Paris by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The government has promised that police stations would be more receptive to women in distress filing complaints, and that housing should be provided for women, whom these activists and the government agree, need rescuing from severe abuse. So far some 50 women have moved into such apartments, and Ni Putes, Ni Soumises gets a steady stream of abused and battered girls. “It takes time to make change happen,” says Lebdi, “but we don’t have time. Every single situation we deal with is an emergency and often even a matter of life and death.”
The problem is that to help the women of the cites in the long run, you have to help the men—not only to find jobs and education, but to learn to live in Western societies. And precious little has been done about that.
women against islamic misogyny