The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The condition of immigrant women in France

Nov 17, 2003

In recent years there has been a growing controversy in France about whether girls wearing veils should be allowed to wear them in the public schools. This is not only or even essentially a question of religion being brought into the schools. This question, apparently over something as trivial as a head-scarf, in reality is based on an increasingly terrible oppression of women in some of the immigrant milieus. The following explanation comes from the October 20 issue of the paper Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Power to the Workers), published by the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers, a Trotskyist organization with militants active both in Africa and among African immigrants in France.

The first veiled girls appeared less than 12 years ago, in and around suburban housing projects with a lot of North African immigration.

The housing projects in the suburbs of the big cities are in terrible condition, since the authorities decided to reduce spending on public housing. Buildings and grounds have progressively deteriorated in every way, physical and social. Stairwells, corridors and basements became places where all kinds of dealing flourished, including drugs. Criminal gangs found the ideal place to grow, to recruit among the young, all the easier because unemployment, the lack of anything to do and the lack of hope pitilessly strikes the poor neighborhoods.

Youth who drive motor bikes to add to their authority in their gangs or to impress rival gangs aren't generally animated by honorable sentiments. Macho posturing and the hatred of women are part of the values in this milieu. Since social education has been cut back due to the drying up of public funds, it's the Muslim "basement imams" who have rapidly taken the place left vacant. Under these influences, that of the environment and that of the imams, numerous youth end up finding approval for their behavior, which is hostile and authoritarian toward young women.

The girls who refuse to go along and don't wear the veil, for example, are treated as "heathen" or "whores." It's not a question of religion. It's a shocking hatred for women being expressed. Harassment and insults have become the daily lot of girls who dare to refuse to be subservient. Gang rapes have been carried out by gangs of youth in the basements of buildings against girls without veils. A year ago, a girl was brutally burned alive after being splashed with gas by youths her age and thrown in an empty garbage dump. Her crime? She resisted her rape.

In communities of African origin, girls are also oppressed, even if the forms are somewhat different. There are cases of arranged marriage, which are actually forced, by nearby relatives or by relatives remaining in the villages in their original country. These arrangements have been made more public, thanks to the mobilization of women's networks or by the determination of militant women's associations. Some girls who are still students in the high schools in France were able to escape through these networks when they had been sent back to their original countries to marry someone chosen for them.

Workers have nothing to gain by accepting the oppression of women. The emancipation of women is an integral part of the program of socialist revolutionaries. The fraternal society that we seek to build will be a society of liberty, that is to say, freed of all forms of exploitation and oppression.