Muslim Voters Are Pretty Frustrated with France's New Minister for Women’s Rights

Image for article titled Muslim Voters Are Pretty Frustrated with France's New Minister for Women’s Rights

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]


queen honeybee

It's very hard for me to reconcile my feminist beliefs in gender equality with the notion that prohibiting prostitution and burqas are both bad moves for women.

The "oldest profession" in the world has yet to lead to the liberation of women despite how "empowering" the "sex industry" is and women covering up their entire body in public is not about religious or cultural freedom, but about patriarchal control.

I don't understand why that seems to get left out of the conversation so often. Why isn't it "socially conscious" to want to stop the commodification and patriarchal control of women's bodies? How are we achieving women's liberation by supporting men's use of women as sexual commodities (even if some of those women make a financial profit from it) and men's control of women's bodies under the excuse of religion (even if those women accept their own subjugation)?

I obviously don't support any kind of racial profiling or violence against Muslims, but I also don't see why public policy - or feminists - should support ANY religion's sexist rules.

I know there are more nuances to this story re: the political situation, sex work regulations, etc., but does anyone else feel the same frustration? Of if not, how do you think protecting prostitution and burqa wearing helps women as a class to achieve gender equality?