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Creating a Third Choice

Sihem HabchiIt all started with a nation wide march across 23 cities, in 2002- in response to an epidemic of violent crimes against young Muslim women that were perpetrated by Muslim male gangs in the infamous Parisian suburbs called Cites- low cost housing projects.(Pronounced See-tay).

The bleak, heavily muslim suburbs sprung up in the 1950’s and 60’s around large cities in France. With an unemployment rate that’s double the national average, and blatant discrimination, some young men in the ghettos, often of Muslim heritage, direct their aggression inward, assuming the role of the morals police and guardians of their families’ honor. Creating an environment where young girls are afraid to leave their homes unescorted, dress as they’d like to or even talk to male classmates at school. This might sound like a tale from some obscure town in the Middle East, or in North Africa… but this is the reality of young muslim women in Paris!

The brutal rape and murder of Sohane Benziane, a 17-year-old girl by her ex-boyfriend and his friends, served as both the moral tipping point and final catalyst. Five women and two men decided to fight this growing obscurantism and targeting of young mulism girls. They marched all across France, calling the public’s attention to the condition of young girls in poor neighbourhoods.

To bring this misogynistic trend to a grinding halt, a feminist movement called ‘Ni Putes Ni Soumises’ emerged. Started by women who had endured the same plight and were finally ready to speak out.

Sihem Habchi is one of those women. Born to Algerian immigrant parents, she survived discrimination and victimization as a young girl. In 2007, she took over as president of Ni Putes Ni Soumises. The group’s name is provocative — and intentionally so. It literally translates to “Neither whores, Nor Submissives” and is aimed at those who confine women to either the roles of homemakers and dutiful daughters or label them as immoral and disgraceful for adopting even a modicum of social freedom. The name is also directed at intellectuals, politicians and other observers to reinforce that oppression has not made these women passive; it’s made them only more determined.

She explains, that “For this generation, the crucial issues are secularism, gender equality and gender desegregation, in order to create a feminist movement based upon living together in harmony throughout the world, and not only in France.”

NPNS has branches in several other countries where they inspire and assist the growing Muslim feminist movement. Sihem travels the world drawing attention and showing solidarity with women being targeted by religious fundamentalists, some through fatwa’s and others through violent crimes and intimidation. She drew the continents support to Nilofer Bakhtiar in Pakistan and Taslima Nasrin in Bangladesh when they were threatened with a Fatwa. When Somalia born Dutch citizen Ayaan Hirsi Ali was condemned for her screenplay for the film ‘Submission’, and the director Theo Van Gough, was assassinated, ‘Ni Putes Ni Soumises’ rallied support and media attention to the issue.

Earlier this year, a French playwright and actress- Rayhana was attached in front of a theater in Paris where she was performing a provocative play titled “At My Age, I Still Hide My Smoking”. She was ambushed, doused in fuel and her attackers tossed a lit cigarette on her head. Thankfully Rayhana survived. NPNS came out in support of her en masse and the seasoned actress emerged even more resilient from this experience. She has now been invited to stage her play all over France. Reacting to the incident Sihem says that, “It is her job to be in the theater and our job to be in the streets.”

Everyday is an uphill battle for Sihem. For her, tackling allegations of being Islamophobic and racist, especially for supporting the ‘Burqa ban’ in France and having her organization banned in Morocco- even before they applied for registration; are all in a day’s work. But she knows that for her sisters, she must “fight all those to exploit Islam to confine women.”

‘Ni Putes Ni Soumises’ is a movement that’s ushering in change. Their message is simple… Join in, or step out of their way.

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9 Responses to “Creating a Third Choice”

  1. David Mccutcheon says:

    are these the same people who are lobbying for no burqa in france? hat tip!

  2. Bira Pandy says:

    movements like these and the people involved are great ambassadors of equality

  3. arani prakasam says:

    great work.

  4. Devendra Mhatre says:

    what a powerful name for a cause.

  5. jiten kulkarni says:

    wow! they sound like the greenpeace of womens rights!

  6. Nikhil Nathan says:

    great post tithiya

  7. Yoan Bernabeu says:

    even today, two thirds of all children not getting education are girls. gender equality is a long way to go

  8. Ava says:

    Join in, definitely!

  9. Tarik says:

    are you back in india now?

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