Guest promotes equality

The fight for gender equality in France will take the efforts of both immigrants and native French people, Ni Pute Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Submissives) President Sihem Habchi said Tuesday.

"Women don’t feel emancipated and don’t feel safe from harassment," she said.

Habchi said mixite, which she referred to as gender equality and togetherness, is important for people to achieve.

"It’s so important for us to fight for mixite," she said. "Men and women have to fight together for equality. Women from other classes besides the foreigners who live in France’s ghettos need to help as well. Mixite means whites and blacks, Muslims and Christians and other distinct groups coming together. We have conferences at Maison Mixite where we organize solutions."

UH associate professor of French and French native Claudine Giacchetti said the French government should keep enforcing equal standards for the good of society.

"It’s the legal obligation of all public schools to educate males and females without any distinction," Giacchetti said.

"The French believe it’s advantageous to all because it helps dissolve prejudice by bringing together men and women and different cultures."

Habchi, a native of Algeria who moved to France at age 3, has been President of NPNS since 2007 and said the organization also operates in other countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, Belgium, Italy, and Spain to help underprivileged women. Habchi said the key to elevating the status of women in traditional patriarchal French society lies with older women.

"The grandmothers and mothers have the same traditional vision of women’s statutes that the men have. They feel that they will be dishonorable if they say ‘no’ to their husbands or refuse to submit in any other way. It’s hard for them to change, but we have to talk to them first, so their children can then learn from them," Habchi said.

Dominique Philippe Chastres, the Houston office general consulate of the French service cultural attache, said Habchi’s point on the need for help from all types of people was important, which made her appearance in Houston crucial.

"A movement like Ni Pute Ni Soumises, and everyone who believes in it, should talk to all women in all societies, not just one small group of immigrant women. The movement needs to be using the media, and television, because the solutions will be found together," Chastres said.

He also said the organization will be heard because of the presence of its former president Fadela Amara in the French government.

"France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed Amara, who founded NPNS in 2003, Secretary of State for Urban Matters," said Chastres.

Rice professor of French studies Bernard Aresu said Habchi’s appearance in America would help increase America understanding of complex issues in France. "I though it was important that she clarified issues difficult for Americans to understand because of differences in legal and social practices, as well as Constitutional histories," said Aresu.

UH associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies Sarah Fishman, who studied abroad in France and helped organize the lecture on behalf of the UH Tenneco Lecture Series with French Studies Department and Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice.

"It is easy to talk about freedom, but it is not easy to live with freedom," Fishman said. We must try to have a responsible discourse. If we don’t practice our ideals, it means nothing. We have to work to keep women safe for a long time, so we won’t have to say the same words, ‘ni putes ni soumises,’ in 10 years."

Fishman said Habchi’s presence cleared misunderstandings.

"There’s a lot of misconceptions in situations in France, and it’s important to hear the voice of someone who lives in these underprivileged communities that you only hear about in the news when they riot," she said. "Habchi’s key argument is that solving women’s problems is central to solving societal problems in France."

Leave a Comment