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This blog is dedicated to women from Sri lanka and Ethiopia working as domestic workers in Beirut, Lebano
n. These women take upon themselves great voyages to foreign countries in the hope of a better future. Their courage and endurance is outstanding.

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15 février 2007 4 15 /02 /février /2007 02:03

Daughters of the Republic

A talk with Sihem Habchi, vice-president of "Ni Putes, Ni Soumises"

 Tension is in the air in the headquarters of "ni putes ni soumises" in Paris. The women and men sitting side by side in the crammed offices have only one thing on their minds: the continuing violence in the ghettoized suburban quarters of Paris. This association that traces back its origins to the "quartiers" feels particularly involved. These are our people, explains Sihem Habchi, vice-president of the association, they are children of the republic, and this is their desperate, auto destructive cry to be heard.

And "ni putes ni soumises" trusts the republic (the res publica, the common thing, as Habchi remarks) and the rights that it provides for its citizens: racial and sexual equality, secularism, democracy. The values might be old, but "ni putes ni soumises" is new and very contagious. This young association advocates for respect, equality and the fight against any form of discrimination always stressing the rights and duties of republican citizenship. "Patriarchal oppression is still an issue in our society and takes on different forms, violence against women, honour crimes, mistreatment, discrimination and the restrictive culture that many families impose on their daughters" explains Habchi.

Tired of being labelled or harassed, a group of girls and women from the suburbs of Paris took to streets in the spring of 2003 to denounce their situation. The cry against patriarchal oppression, religious fundamentalism, and discrimination echoed throughout . Apart from their public campaigns to call attention upon the plight of women in , and who has not seen their posters on the walls of Paris? They provide legal and psychological help for victims of violence, and have recently published a guide of respect, directed at young people and touching the issues of sexuality, tradition and violence. The movement, as they like to call it, has made it big in French public opinion for the clarity of their statements, the charisma of Fadela Amara, the polemic and outspoken president, as well as their appeal and energy.

As provocative as their name, "neither whore nor submissive" are the migrant origins of the women –the new Marianne's of the république, they say-. I do not discuss it, or particularly stress it, but yes, I am of Muslim, Algerian origin" says Habchi. And probably on account of these origins, NPNS have found it easy and obvious to reach out to theirs sisters on the other side of the Mediterranean and even further away. They have accompanied Moroccan feminists in their exemplary fight for equal citizenship; they have provided associative shelter for Rania al-Baz, the Saudi journalist that was victim of her husband's violence and had the courage to speak up against it, and the yearly NPNS summer-university unites women from all over the world to discuss subjects ranging from secularism, multiculturalism, ghettos and international solidarity.

"Lebanon shows the world the image of being different from other Arabic countries, more open, more European", states Habchi. We try to explain that the pictures of the Monot crew are not representative of the country. A young feminist movement is badly needed in and secularity is just about the solution for the entire country's woes. Lebanon could use a good dose of "Ni putes ni soumises".

Interview:  Mina Zapatero
Photograph: Walid Abdelnour

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