France: Two women of colour included in Sarkozy's new government

AFP / Middle East Times
President Nicolas Sarkozy's new government lineup gives a fresh nod to France's ethnic diversity, with a Muslim feminist and a young woman of Senegalese origin taking junior minister posts.
Following the groundbreaking appointment last month of Rachida Dati, a French-born magistrate of North African parents, as justice minister, Sarkozy's full government now includes three women drawn from black and Arab minorities.
Senegalese-born Rama Yade, 30, a rising star of Sarkozy's rightwing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), becomes junior minister for foreign affairs and human rights, under foreign minister Bernard Kouchner.

Fadela Amara, the 43-year-old daughter of Algerian parents and an outspoken campaigner for Muslim women's rights in run-down housing projects across the country, was named junior minister for urban affairs. Amara heads a grassroots organization called "Ni Putes Ni Soumises" (Neither Whores Nor Submissive), founded in 2002 to alert the public to the oppression faced by women in places where fundamentalist Islam is making inroads.

A practicing Muslim herself, she shot to national attention when she led a march of anger after a 17-year-old Muslim woman, Sohane Benziane, was doused with gasoline and burned alive for refusing to obey a local gang leader. With militant experience going back to the 1980s, Amara has campaigned for past governments to put in place a national shelter plan for women and girls who are victims of domestic violence.

Both new ministers grew up on housing estates, Amara in a family of 10 children in the central city of Clermont Ferrand where she battled to win independence from a traditionalist Muslim father. Yade was born in Dakar, the daughter of a Senegalese diplomat, but grew up with her mother and three sisters on the outskirts of Paris, where she studied political science, moving on to an administrator's job in the French Senate.

In 2006, the stylish, fine-featured young woman was named secretary for French-speaking countries for Sarkozy's UMP party, marking the start of a rapid ascension at the future president's side.

Yade is married to a Socialist aide to the mayor of Paris, but says that she trusts Sarkozy to take the right steps to open up French public life to ethnic minorities, and is unfazed by his tough talk on immigration. She delivered a fiery speech earlier this year accusing the left of creating a welfare state and giving immigrant communities "pity rather than respect."

Yade, whose full name is Ramatoulaye Yade-Zimet, is vice-president of the Club 21st Century, a networking and lobby group campaigning for greater ethnic diversity in French business and public life. Promoting diversity in politics became a major issue in France after the 2005 riots in the immigrant-heavy suburbs, where black and Arab populations complain that they are shut out of mainstream society.

The appointments of Amara, Yade, and Dati, contrast with the results of parliamentary elections that failed to provide a hoped-for boost in the number of black and Arab lawmakers, returning just one minority candidate to a seat on the mainland.

Malek Boutih, social affairs secretary for the opposition Socialist Party, issued a statement welcoming the presence of three women from ethnic minorities as "an extraordinary symbol for the national community."

Amara's appointment, he said, "represents a real hope for the suburbs, which will be able to count on her strength, her independence, and her determination."

June 19, 2007