Me Thinks

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Update on France

We always think the Western world is more civilised and the quality of life is always better there. Well, looks like thats not the case always. France is not all about fashion and wine as we think. Hope normacly returns soon. Here is wishing the people of France a better life than what they have now. The following article forwarded by my friend kind of startled me.

SAINT DENIS, France, Nov 10 (Reuters) - With nightly scenes of rioting beamed around the globe, the world has learned that France's bleak suburbs are enclaves of gang wars and macho rules. The girls living there have known this for years.

Even before the riots, Ophelia, 16, used to run home from school every day because she was afraid of being attacked in the maze of high-rise buildings in her suburb northeast of Paris.

A series of gang rapes in these bleak housing estates shocked France a few years ago. In 2002, a 17-year-old girl was set alight by an 18-year-old boy as his friends stood by.

Walking near a burned-out garbage bin, Ophelia's twin sister Sandra says the riots came as no surprise. Violence against and pressure on women is part of daily life in the suburbs, where boys can dictate how girls should dress.


"You have to behave like a guy and look like a guy. If you wear a skirt, you get into immediate trouble. You're a slut," says Sandra, wearing a baggy sweatshirt and jeans.

Sandra and her sister grew up in the nearby Clichy-sous-Bois suburb, where the riots broke out after the accidental death of two teenage boys on Oct. 27.


The violence spread across France, with young men venting deep anger about racism, unemployment and a bleak future.


But not many girls have taken part, and many say they are fed up with consecutive nights of violence.


Apart from poverty, feminists say the dominance of traditional cultures among families of Arab and black African origin, combined with the growing role of Islam in the suburbs, have contributed to the harsh treatment girls get there.


Pressure is mounting for Muslim women to wear veils. Forced marriages that snatch them from college and career -- where they do much better than their male schoolmates -- are on the rise.


The support group "Ni Putes, Ni Soumises" ("Neither Whores nor Submissives") says the number of forced marriages has risen in recent years, with roughly 70,000 girls pressured into unwanted relationships each year in France.


"MARRY THIS MAN!"


"There is so much violence in the suburbs because there is so much poverty here," said Ourdia Aibeche, who runs a soup kitchen in Saint Denis, a rundown suburb north of Paris where France's kings are buried.


"There is a saying: If there is no money in the house, there is war in the house," she said.


Violence comes in different forms, says Sarah Oussekine, who leads the feminist Voix d'Elles-Rebelles group from a small office in a grey housing estate in Saint Denis.


"Many come to us because they have been beaten by members of their families," she said. "And there are lots of women between the age of 17 and 30 who are being forced into marriage," she said, adding her group was advising some 3,500 women a year.


Oussekine said many girls of African origin were depressed because they failed to lead a modern French life and fulfil their families' expectations at the same time.


"One day, their father comes along and says: 'Marry this man. He's a good guy. He'll treat you well'," Oussekine says.


Aisha's father did so. The 22-year-old, who did not want to give her real name, ran away from her family last night because her father told her she would have to marry a distant relative or be sent to live with family in Algeria.


"I can't go back to my parents," said the soft-spoken girl.


Oussekine says the conservative government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin should provide groups like hers with means to educate young women and offer them hope.