Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Influential French Women: Eva Joly

In Biography, Politics on December 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I have already discussed on this blog why Eva Joly is the most women’s-rights-friendly candidate on the ballot for the French 2012 presidential elections. So, let me present you with a short bio of the woman who could become France’s president in 2012.

Short Biography

Joly was born in Oslo, Norway in 1948 with dual French-Norwegian nationality. Joly moved to Paris when she was 20 to work as an au pair. She then went on to marry the son of the Joly family who employed her. Joly worked to support her husband through medical school, but eventually studied herself and became a magistrate aged 38.

Joly is best known for her 8 year investigation into corruption in the well-known multinational oil company Elf in the 1990s. She received death threats and continued her investigation despite the risks to her safety.

Today Joly is the Presidential candidate for the Europe, écologie et les verts (l’EELV). In her election campaign Joly presents a ‘green’ economy as the “the only way to get out of the [financial] crisis” (seul chemin pour sortir de la crise”.)

Media Coverage of Joly

Unsurprisingly, the left-wing press widely report developments in Joly’s presidential campaign and the green cause. In the wider press, however, Joly is not so well received. For example in the more right-wing press such as Le Figaro, her dual nationality is a point of contention. The question is always if Joly is French enough to be running for president. In an article from July this year Joly states, “I am French by choice and conviction” (Je suis française par choix et par conviction). Her accent has also raised questions of the legitimacy of her presidential candidacy. Joly reacted to this in a video which celebrates the diversity of the French accent and the proud patriotic reasons why immigrants choose to live in France.

Why should you know about her?

She best represents the feminist interest in the French Presidential elections and she is an accomplished magistrate who has fought for her beliefs throughout her career. Furthermore, Joly could not only be the next President, but the first female President in French history.

For more information see the video for yourself here (very much worth a watch if you understand French), Joly’s official biography here (French) and a recent Guardian interview here



French Women Twice as Likely to Attempt Suicide than French Men

In Health, Society on December 19, 2011 at 10:34 am

It was reported last week that in a survey of 27,000 French people aged 15-85, 5.5% admitted to already having attempted suicide at some point in their lives. The report was published by the Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire [BEH] (Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin), which also added that more than 10,400 people die from committing suicide every year in France. It was also revealed that French women were twice as likely as French men to attempt suicide and the most likely period for women to attempt suicide was between 15-19. So why is it that French women in particular account for twice as many suicide attempts than French men?

TF1 accounts for the disproportionately high numbers of women attempting suicide by estimating that men are more likely to commit suicide using more violent methods than women (which are therefore more ‘successful’). In 2009, of the more than 10,400 deaths by suicide in France, 75% were men and only 25% were women. Thus, women are more likely to survive suicide attempts, which is why the survey may have recorded a disproportionately high percent of female suicide attempts.

However, when looking at mental health statistics, specifically depression rates, there seems to be correlation between suicide rates. A paper published by l’INSEE revealed that in 2003, among French people in the île-de-France, women were twice as likely as men to be depressed. The paper also mentions that comparing profession, age, family and professional situations between mean and women like-for-like, women were still twice as likely as men to be seriously depressed.

No links are made in the press between mental health, specifically depression rates and suicide attempt rates. Furthermore, there is no suggestion of how to prevent more suicide attempts. Dr. Jean-Louis Terra, in TF1, describes the findings as “one more piece of the puzzle which aims to better understand this daily shattering catastrophe.”  (une pièce de plus au puzzle qui vise à mieux connaître cette catastrophe en miettes et quotidienne). There is more research needed to link cause and effect if France is to prevent more suicides and thoroughly explain the disproportionate numbers of women affected.

For more information on the statistics see the INSEE report here, the TF1 article here and the Liberation article here

French Women’s Handball Team Defeated in World Championships Final

In Sport on December 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Norway (in white) celebrate their victory. Image from Libération: http://www.liberation.fr/sports/01012378452-handball-les-francaises-battues-par-les-norvegiennes

The French Women’s Handball team lost in the finals of the Women’s Handball World Championships on Sunday 18th December. The final was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil between the French team and their Norwegian opponents. The French team were defeated by 24 points to Noway’s 32.

France only lost one game in the group stage against the Brazilian team (26-22) and looked on course to win the world title. The team defeated Sweden, last year’s vice-champions, and then Russia in the quarter finals, this year’s defending champions. Unfortunately, one of their key players, Allison Pineau, damaged ligaments in her left knee in the semi-final match against Denmark. This proved to be a set-back for the French team in the final.

The French Coach, Olivier Krumbholz, played various combinations of players and tactics, but nothing could defeat the Norwegian defence. In particular, the formidable Norwegian keeper Katrine Lunde Haraldsen.

For information see the Libération article (French) here, Le Monde (French) article here and the International Handball Federation site (English) here

Influential French Women: Christine Lagarde

In Biography, Politics on December 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Christine Lagarde. Photo from Eric Boman for Vogue: http://www.vogue.com/magazine/article/christine-lagarde-changing-of-the-guard/

Short Biography

The role for which Christine Lagarde is best known globally is as the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). When Lagarde took up the post in June 2011, she also became the fund’s first female Managing Director.

Born in Paris in 1956, Lagarde attended University and in 1981 became a barrister in Paris. Lagarde then progressed through the hierarchy of the Baker & McKenzie law firm and in 2004 became their Chairman of Global Strategy.

Her political career began in 2005 as Minister for commerce and industry and was then, in 2007, moved to a position as Minister for Agriculture and Fishing, both under Prime Minister François Fillon’s government. In June of 2007 she was made Minister of Finance, another first for a woman. Chrstine was a minister as part of the centre-right UMP party, the same party as the current French President, Nicholas Sarkozy.

Media Coverage of LaGarde

As MD of the IMF, Lagarde has attracted a lot of media attention, not only for her high-profile position, but also because of her “glamour” and “sexiness“. Vogue did a piece on Lagarde which complimented her on her good fashion sense and the combination of femininity and competence that the media often finds so novel in a woman. The Gaurdian produced a piece in a similar vein entitled: “Is the world’s sexist woman? (And the most powerful?)”. The article congratulates Lagarde on “being keen on feminine virtues, then, without being po-faced”. Both of these articles highlight the media’s obsession with links between sexuality, femininity and powerful women.

Fortunately, there was coverage of Lagarde’s appointment to act as counter-balances to the over-analysis of her feminine virtues and “sexiness”. The Economist presented the launch of Lagarde’s bid without even a mere mention of her  Hermès handbag.

Why should you know about her?

Lagarde’s appointment was a momentous victory for feminists and all those frustrated by the unequal representation of women in powerful positions. She has proved, just like Angela Merkel, that it is possible to be a woman in a high profile position without every single article in the media commenting on her appearance. Oh, and I’ve heard she owns a great handbag…

For more information on Christine Lagarde see her government biography here (French): http://www.minefe.gouv.fr/ministere_finances/lagarde.htm and her official IMF bio here (English): http://www.imf.org/external/np/omd/bios/cl.htm 

30,000 Faulty Breast Implants and the French ‘Bimbo’ Myth

In Health, Society on December 17, 2011 at 10:29 am

A PIP Prosthesis. Image from L'Express.

On Wednesday it was widely reported that eight cases of cancer had been linked to a faulty breast implant scandal that has seen 30,000 French women affected. However, the cancer cases and the faulty implants have no proven medical connection. The faulty implants were made of industrial grade silicone, which is used in the electronics industry, rather than the medical grade silicone which is normally used in cosmetic surgery.

The scandal sparked protests in Paris on Wednesday, in front of the Ministry of Health. The protest also highlighted the long-standing presumption in France that women who have breast augmentations are “bimbos”. An article in L’Express, entitled “PIP prostheses: ordinary women, not bimbos” (Prothèse PIP: des femmes ordinaires, pas de bimbos), comments on the absence of blonde women in the crowd of protesters. It’s hard to tell if this reference is ironic or not. The article also tells us that “They have all undertaken surgery for aesthetic reasons.” (Toutes ont réalisé l’intervention chirurgicale pour des raisons esthétiques), a blanket statement which does little to dispel the “bimbo” myth.

The Guardian interviews an anonymous protester who had a breast augmentation because she “suffered from depression and mental-health problems linked to body image”. This is a refreshing angle on the coverage, which, so far in the French media, hasn’t properly looked at the profiles of the women who are affected. Despite L’Express’s rather feeble attempt to balance the common, rather patronizing, media image of women who have plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, the French press fails to investigate the reasons why women undertake cosmetic surgery.

For more information see the Guardian article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/14/france-faulty-breast-implant-scandal and L’Express article here (French): http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/prothese-pip-des-femmes-ordinaires-pas-des-bimbos_1062080.html

Does France’s new anti-prostitution resolution protect or punish?

In Politics, Society on December 16, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Prostitues protesting against resolution no. 3522 in Paris. Image from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16047284

Last week, according to the BBC, the French National Assembly passed resolution no.3522  to make paying for sex a crime. What implication does this have for France’s 20,000 sex workers, and is this a move that will protect or punish them?

The Figaro reminds us that the French government has taken a pro-abolition stance against prostitution since 1960. The article quotes the resolution as stating: “[the principles of abolitionism] have to be proclaimed loud and clear at a time when prostitution is commonplace in Europe.” ([les principes]doivent être proclamés haut et fort à une époque où la prostitution semble se banaliser en Europe)

For some anti-prostitution campaigners in France this is the good news they have been waiting for. La Fondation Scelles has campaigned for years for the abolition of prostitution in France because they “believe prostitution is a breach of human rights of equality, of dignity and a source of social and personal violence.” (estime que la prostitution est une atteinte aux Droits humains d’égalité, de dignité et une source de violences sociales et personnelles) For La Fondation Scelles this resolution confirms the government’s commitment to an abolitionist stance. Furthermore, they see this resolution as a protection of human rights and a move that will protect sex workers by punishing their clients.

The French Sex Worker’s Union (STRASS), however, sees it as a step in the wrong direction. The Union believes the resolution will push prostitution underground and create an invisible problem: “What this shows it that the parliamentarians have no concern for the fate of poor whores, but to make prostitution invisible and to satisfy the demands of local residents.” (Cela montre que le souci des parlementaires n’est pas le pauvre sort des putes, mais bien de rendre le travail sexuel invisible et de satisfaire les demandes des riverains.)

The proposal will see clients being punished through fines and prison sentences, but SRASS does highlight that the welfare of the worker is not leading this resolution. There is a risk of punishing sex workers and forcing them into even more vulnerable positions to find work without really addressing the issues surrounding why people prostitute themselves. Legislation that is made without the consultation of key groups, such as STRASS, is likely to misunderstand how to help sex workers in France.

For more information see the BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16047284 , the Fondation Scelles website (French): http://fondationscelles.org/ and the STRASS website (French): http://site.strass-syndicat.org/

Eva Joly’s Commitment to Pay Equality

In Politics on December 16, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Eva Joly: French Presidential Candidate 2012. Image from http://evajoly2012.fr/

In a recent interview with Libération, founder of the feminist movement Osez le Féminisme (which roughly translates as Dare to be Feminist), Caroline de Haas commented on the role she hopes feminist movements will play in the upcoming 2012 presidential elections; “The priority is to make the equality of men and women a political talking-point, to obtain strong commitments and promises.”(La priorité est de faire de l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes un sujet politique, de recueillir des engagements forts, des promesses..). Attempting to get feminist issues into the main-stream agenda of either the right or left-wing is not an easy task. So, is anyone listening?

So far there are only 2 women on the 7 person ballot for the 2012 presidential elections: Marine le Pen for the far right Front National and Eva Joly for the leftist Europe, Ecologie, Les Verts (The Greens). Of the two candidates Joly appears to be the woman whose rhetoric comes closest to that of French feminist movements. In November, Joly published a news article on her website entitled: “From Novotel to the Senat, Eva Joly defends equality between men and women” (Du Novotel au Sénat, Eva Joly défend l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes). The article sees photos of Joly supporting striking Paris hotel workers as they demanded better pay and more secure working hours.The article also notes that Joly’s campaign recognises women as being more likely to be on temporary contracts or in more unstable employment.

Recently, Joly signed Le pacte pour l’égalité (The pact for equality) which includes aims to make pay equal between genders within 5 years, reform maternity leave and increase paternity leave, and make it illegal to have employment contracts of less than 16 hours a week. The pact was written in conjunction with Osez le féminisme as part of the organization Laboratoire de l’égalitéspecifically in order to pin down presidential candidates on equality issues. This is exactly the kind of “strong commitment” Haas was looking for. This is not surprising because, after all, her organization helped to design it.

Joly seems to be politically alone with her stance on pay equality. The only other mention of job insecurity is by the left-wing Front de Gauche party who broach the issue by presenting job insecurity as a gender neutral problem. This approach does not actively recognize the percentage of women in precarious employment, nor does it really propose measures to tackle the issue of pay inequality in France.

It seems that Joly is the only candidate really representing women’s concerns and addressing the issues feminist movements really care about. But, of course, only time and the ballot box will tell if Joly will keep her promises to women.

More to come on Joly and the presidential campaigns for 2012. For more information see Joly’s website: http://evajoly2012.fr/ (French) and an interview with Joly done in February 2011 by the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/feb/04/eva-joly-interview


La Barbe Celebrates 100th Protest Action

In Movements on December 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm

"Des Barbues à Paris" - Image from La Barbe.

It was reported by egalite-infos.fr yesterday that La Barbe was to celebrate its 100th protest action by co-ordinating six protests in France and a further three in Denmark, Haiti and Mexico. So, what is La Barbe and does it have any potential to move to the UK?

La Barbe (translates as “The Beard” in English) is a French feminist protest movement which aims to highlight the absence of women in high profile political and business positions. The main tool used to gain column inches in the French press is the wearing by protesters of a (rather comedy) beard. La Barbe supporters, wearing their beards, turn up to protest against the disproportionate numbers of men in certain domains such as business, sport, arts and media.

Their manifesto states: “Pour toutes les femmes effarées par la montée du sexisme dans les médias, pour les femmes excédées par la domination masculine dans la société française, pour celles effraient de voir augmenter encore les inégalités entre hommes et femmes dans tous les secteurs d’activité.”

Translation: “For all the women startled by the rise in sexism in the media, for all the women fed up with male domination of French society, for those shocked to still see the inequality of men and women in all sectors.”

According to their statistics it seems La Barbe have every reason to be effarées. They estimate that in the French media 85% of television executives are men and 85% of experts who appear on French radio discussions are male. There are similarly shocking statistics presented for the domination of men in the arts, sports and business.

It seems the movement is spreading, too. Danish feminists, under the name Nordic La Barbe, have also embraced the beard, taking part in the 100th protest celebrations in Copenhagen. They also stand alongside their counterparts in Mexico known as Las Bigotonas (The Mustaches). So could this hirsute form of feminist protest spread to the UK?

Sadly, La Barbe has gone relatively unnoticed by the British media. Aside from a fairly comprehensive overview by the Guardian, and a couple more specific articles in the Independent and Guardian covering the protests following the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, there has been relatively little said about La Barbe in the UK.

Furthermore, English language feminism organizations such as The F Word and Feministing have produced very little on La Barbe. The only mention of it I could find was a very brief article explaining the movement on Feministing dating back to September 2010. It’s a shame because La Barbe has been a effective and visual way to highlight the issues of sexism in France. It has also somewhat rejuvenated the feminist movement in France, so perhaps we have something to learn from our bearded French sisters?

For more information on La Barbe visit their web page: www.labarbelabarbe.org or their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Barbe-groupe-daction-f%C3%A9ministe/149218445123550 (Unfortunately only available in French).