Since newly-elected French President François Hollande appointed her to his cabinet as the minister for women's rights (and made her the official government spokesperson to boot), Najat Vallaud-Belkacem's most high-profile order of business was her pledge to "see prostitution disappear" in Paris. This came as a pretty big, eight-pack-of-socks-for-a-birthday-present disappointment to Muslim voters, who were really hoping that Vallaud-Belkacem would work within the Holland administration to overturn former President Sarkozy's "burqa ban."
Writing for The Guardian, Nabila Ramdani explains that the new minister of women's crusade against prostitution strikes a lot of Parisians as unnecessary — sex workers in Paris have accused her of trying to drive what is a pretty well-regulated industry underground, and a recent protest in the Pigalle red light district featured signs that read, "Criminalized clients means murdered prostitutes." Vallaud-Pelkacem's insistence that a country notorious for "romanticizing" the sex industry should be concentrating on dissolving it has puzzled her supporters, since there are so many other things that she could be doing to help ease the perverse strain of nationalism fostered under the previous administration.
Like lifting the ban on on burqas and easing the stigmatization of even partial veils. The Socialists abstained from the 2010 vote on the ban, out of what Ramdani characterizes as a "muddled view of secularism — or laïcité" (many voting Socialists, however, agreed that the ban was merely a guise for prejudice against Muslims). Vallaud-Pelkacem comes from a North African background and, at 34, seemed like the face of an energetic, socially-conscious choice for a position in Hollande's cabinet. French Muslims threw a ton of support behind the new president, with some polls estimating that their approbation of Hollande was nearly unanimous at 93 percent.
Still, the Socialist administration has dithered in lifting the ban, even though, according to young citizens such as 23-year-old Sonia Choukri, "The Socialists could get rid of the burqa ban with the stroke of a pen. They have a huge majority in Parliament." Other Muslims say that the ban has drawn an inordinate amount of police attention to them and would rather see Vallaud-Belkacem, the very manifestation of their hope for a more tolerant France, concentrate on enacting simple yet meaningful reforms, such as easing restrictions on the building of mosques and women-only swimming sessions at public pools, rather than trying to chase all the sex workers out of the dance halls.
The French minister for women has let down Muslim voters [The Guardian]