Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Influential French Women: Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

In Biography, Politics on May 17, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Image from http://www.wikipedia.org

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is another French female minister to be appointed in Hollande and Ayrault’s new government this week. Her appointment is the most significant of this election in terms of women’s rights in France, as she has taken up the post of Minister for the Rights of Women. This role has been brought back over a decade after it was abolished in 1998. The promise to bring back this ministerial position is one that Hollande made in  a speech during his electoral campaign on International Women’s Day.

In terms of politics, Belkacem is young at only 34 (born 1977). Her origins have also been divisive in a country whose far-right party won approximately 18% of the first round votes in the most recent presidential election. Although she was born in Morocco, Belkacem moved to France at an early age (1982) with her family, to join her father who was already working in Northern France. Despite having dual nationality, Belkacem was attacked by the far-right Front National candidate Nicole Hugon. Hugon said that Belkacem’s election and her dual nationality status was “against French nationality and national preference in France”* (contre la nationalité française et la préférence nationale chez nous). Belkacem came back at these comments saying that dual nationality was “a part of France’s beautiful values” (fait partie des plus belles valeurs [de la République]).

Belkacem’s most prominent work has been in the domain of LGBT rights and bioethics. In Le Monde in February 2011, Belkacem wrote an article arguing the case for bioethic laws in France be changed so that homosexual couples would be allowed to have assistance in creating children through surrogacy or other methods. In an article on her website, Belkacem said, “In the name of freedom, why not extend MAP [medically assisted procreation] to homosexual couples?” (Au nom de la liberté, pourquoi ne pas étendre la PMA (procréation médicalement assistée) aux couples homosexuels). In 2011 this law was updated, but was not changed to include the reproductive rights of homosexual couples.

For more information on Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, see her official website here and her official twitter account here

*National preference is a FN policy involving French national’s having priority for jobs over immigrants.


Recommended Reads:

18/05/2012: Blair’s Babes and the Hollandettes: Spot the Difference

17/05/2012: Influential French Women: Christiane Taubira

16/05/2012: Hollande Delivers on Equality Promise


Influential French Women: Christiane Taubira

In Biography, Politics on May 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Christiane Taubira. Image from lemonde.fr

Christiane Taubira was recently announced to have become the new Minister for Justice in Hollande and Ayrault’s newly formed government. Élisabeth Guigou was the first woman to become France’s Minister for Justice in 1997. In the years following Guigou’s appointment, three out of five ministers occupying that post have been female.  So Christiane’s appointment has not been entirely ground-breaking in terms of female representation, but she is however the first minister from one of France’s over-seas territories to take up the position.

Christiane has been a députée [MP] for French Guyana since 1993. This means that she has been elected to the French assemblée nationale [parliament] as representative for her department [region]. She has changed political allegiances throughout her career, beginning as an independent candidate in 1993, but every party she has stood for have always been radical socialist or leftist parties.

French Guyana in relation to France. From http://www.wikipedia.org

Her most notable work in her political career has been putting her name to the French law no. 2001-434: For the recognition of human trafficking and slavery as a crime against humanity (Loi no 2001-434 du 21 mai 2001 tendant à la reconnaissance de la traite et de l’esclavage en tant que crime contre l’humanité). This law was passed in 2001, and recognized that slavery in the 15th century of which France partook, was illegal and a crime against humanity. Article 2 of the law also states that these crimes should be compulsorily taught within schools through history lessons in order to educate French children about these events. This law, although some have criticised it for only applying to the enslavement of African peoples,  has helped to officially recognize France’s colonial past and the weight of history which its overseas territories carry.

For more information on Christiane and her new role as Minister for Justice, see her webiste here, the official Minister for Justice site here and her Le Monde news stream here.

L’Acadamie Française Accepts the Seventh ‘Imortelle’

In Biography, Culture on March 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Today (29th March) the Acadamie Française welcomed it’s newest member into their secretive and prestigious ranks. Founded in 1635 by the Cardinal of Richlieu, L’Acadamie Française is one of France’s long-standing cultural institutions. It’s role is to regulate the French language and ensure that it remains unchanged and therefore untarnished.

The most unusual thing about this newest member is her gender. Danièle Sallenave is only the seventh woman, in the academy’s entire 377 year history, to be accepted as an ‘imortelle’ (an immortal [feminine] – the name for members of the academy). Currently the Academy has 36 members filling a total of 40 seats. All immortals hold their seats for life, unless the holder resigns. New members are elected in the event of a death, which explains why the Academy is presently 4 immortals short as the election process takes a long time to complete.

The first woman to be accepted into the academy was Marguerite Yourcenar in 1980. Yourcenar is best known for winning the Prix Femina in 1968 for her work L’Oeuvre au noir (The Abyss). Of the eight women ever elected to the post of ‘imortelle’, six are alive today.

Sallenave earnt her honour through the publication of over thirty works and for her achievements as a journalist. She won the Prix Renaudot in 1980 for her novel Les portes de Rubbio and now sits on the judging panel for the Prix Femina. Sallnave was already known and respected by the academy, as she won the Academy’s prestigious prize for literature in 2005 in recognition of her entire body of work.

For more information read about L’Academie Française here and the Le Monde article here

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


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