Universal petition of March, 15th, 2012

Women demonstrate in favor of a no fly zone in front of the Courthouse in Benghazi, Libya. March 2011 © Gratiane De Moustier/IRIN


An appeal « Arab revolutions, revolutions of women? 8th of March, 8 women » made by 8 Arab women has been largely relayed by the press in France. The text that follows is not meant to cast a doubt on these persons.

Our wish is to point out reductions and simplifications contained in this petition: we are wondering about the overexposure in the public debate in France of the Arab world and, particularly, of the Muslim religion whenever the women’s oppression is concerned.

Inequalities from which are suffering women in the Arab world are, unfortunately, not specific to this region ;  similarly, they are not necessarily imputable to the majority religion.

The appeal of the 8th of March, relayed by French media, seems to have been primarily aimed at the French public opinion, in a particular political context of the presidential election with provocations we are familiar with. In this regard, the denunciation from the tribune of March, 8th of grave facts, without any other form of claims, is nourishing dangerous stereotypes without alleviating women’s sufferings. Couldn’t we do better? We are strongly convinced we could but this would require a little more efforts. Especially in order to be listened to and heard by all those men and women to whom this Appeal was addressed. And in order not to reinforce certain minds eager to political instrumentalization every time it comes to Islam and the Arab world.   (read in  French – read in Arab)

The signatories to this « Universal appeal of March, 15th, 2012 » are: Yves Gonzalez-Quijano, Maître de Conférences Université Lyon2, traducteur, chercheur à l’IFPO ; Rony Brauman, ancien président de MSF et Directeur de recherche à la Fondation MSF ; Anne-Marie Laulan, Professeur émérite de sociologie à Bordeaux III, membre de l’ISCC ; Latifa Tayah-Gueneau, responsable de programme, ONG média ; Houda Bouchaib, journaliste ; Denis Beauchard, ancien diplomate ; Sébastien Boussois, chercheur, spécialiste du Moyen-Orient ; Alice Corbet, anthropologue ; Chadia Boudarssa, Sociologue de l’humanitaire ; Khadija Mohsen-Finan, Universitaire ; David Rieff, politologue, écrivain et journaliste ; Céline Bardet, juriste internationale ; Jérôme Larché, médecin, acteur de l’humanitaire ; Ali Chibani, chercheur, écrivain et journaliste ; Nassera Butin, psychologue, enseignante ; Joseph Dato, acteur de l’humanitaire ; Jacques Soncin, journaliste ; Fatima Chenaif, magistrate algérienne ; Beatrice Flory, animatrice culturelle ; Jean-Jacques Thibon, Maître de Conférences en langue arabe.


“We were surprised this morning of March, 8th, the international women’s day, as we heard on France Inter the actress Dominique Blanc, whose appearance on their air had been announced as a special event, read an “appeal” as solemn as one of those the General could have made at the gravest moments of our history, “We, Arab women”.

We were surprised to hear this appeal declaimed here and in French, an appeal which won’t recognize the fact that we’ve seen on our screens, among the revolutionary crowds, women and men mixed together in a common project, an appeal which ignores the reality of the “Arab world”, once again perceived through distorted glasses of oppressive Islam. We are suspicious, in the light of the recent history, towards sectional initiatives, which, at best, border naivety, or, at worst, benevolent indulgence.

Eight women coming from five Arab countries, are they representative enough of more than 150 million women living in some twenty countries for their dramatic appeal to be so relayed? We think that this appeal of 8 women and its reception by the media can arouse nothing but incomprehension and, probably, rejection from the public opinion in Arab societies, which find themselves the middle of a transition process.

If it comes to making appeals, we could dare giving a lesson to all the states of the world – the women’s day is universal: what about women in China, India, Iran, or even at our own place, where every three days and a half a woman dies of blows given by her partner? Why this obsession about the position of the Arab woman? Presented – always by the same people – as a victim, infantilized, on whose behalf we always talk. This petition relayed by the most visible media, France Inter, le Monde, to be transmitted to the President of the European Union, is robbing all those Arab women who would probably wish us not to use them and to let them go on with their fight, a difficult one.

Neither the « Arab world » nor France would gain from affected and generalizing statements of a misplaced petition. If the recent history was a guide, it would suggest to us that when women’s rights have been referred to in a Muslim country, this often ended up in toughening of politics or even conflicts, which, pursuing other goals, only worsened their situation in one way or another.

We, citizens, support without reservation the struggle of Arab citizens for their freedom, for the establishment on their own of political systems reflecting their aspirations, and we believe that the best help we can provide them is:

– to promote better knowledge of the Arab world, its history and richness

– to fight against clichés that assimilate the Arab world to Islam and Islam to oppression of women,

– to fight against every form of sectional support, which merely results in intensifying the divisions and confusing the ways pursued by the societies undergoing transformation,

– incite our governors to conduct clear, firm and stable politics for the respect by all States of the Declaration of Men’s and Women’s Rights, as well as of the United Nations Charter and resolutions.”
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