Tuesday, September 07, 2010

RIP Samira Belil - one of my greatest inspirations

This was a post I originally wrote on the 11th day of the Paris Riots on 6th November 2005. Reposted today on the 6th anniversary of Samira Belil's death. I believe Samira Belil's story and her book should be more widely known, but it has yet to make a real impact outside France. The book was finally translated and published in English in 2008 as To Hell and Back: The Life of Samira Bellil and is a recommended read.

Samira Bellil died on September 7th 2004 aged 31 of Stomach cancer.

This diminuitive French Algerian immigrant was a modern day Emmeline Pankhurst and arguably the stand she made was possibly a far more courageous act than that of the Suffragettes yet her story remains largely untold outside France.

In her book 'Dans L'Enfer Des Tournantes' (In the Hell of Tournantes) she laid bare the endemic culture of patriarchal oppression in the French ghetto. Her story was underpinned by her own gang rape at the age of 14 at the hands of 4 men known to her.

Gang rape was known in the ghetto as pass-rounds. Her boyfriend handed her over to his 3 friends who brutally raped her all night and then made her breakfast in the morning. This happened to her again when she was dragged by one of her previous assailants off a crowded train while the passengers looked the other way.

Her story is not uncommon of her peers growing up in the Banlieu many of her friends suffered the same fate and women are often forced to hide, stay inside and if they are seen to be in any way deviating from the norm they can often suffer the same fate at the hands of disenfanchised, angry and violent young men.

Her book galvanised a women's movement in France that spawned countless marches across the country attended by thousands of women who had been terrified of voicing their opinions and the action she inspired forced the French Government to look seriously at the issue of pass-rounds in particular, but also the oppression of women in the ghetto. She instigated the set-up and implementation of a women's refuge to protect some of those at gravest danger with a particular focus of attention on the estimated 70,000 who were believed to be in danger of enforced marriage in a heavily fundamentalist islamic honour culture.

Her impact was so great that the government were forced to recognise the changing ethnic fabric of French society and a department was set up to look at the issues. The French government honoured Bellil’s achievements, and those of 13 other women from the projects, by hanging their portraits outside the country's parliament in recognition of the profile they had created.

The reason I post this today is that we are on the back of the 11th day of rioting in the Paris ghettos particularly, but also all over France. It's something I'm sure Bellil would not be in the slightest bit surprised by, the depth of poverty and disaffection has been there for years, mixed with the overpowering macho patriarchal culture. Personally I hope it proves the catalyst the French government require to really tackle the issue of the ghetto and the way that they have been used and ignored for years. The ghettos have been allowed to descend to a hellish existence that breeds the worst type of fundamentalism religiously, patriarchally and violently.

Posted via email from Six's junk thought theorum

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