French women who have been effectively banned from cafés and bars in certain ‘no-go’ suburbs in the country are fighting back.
Journalists and activists for TV channel France 2 went undercover in various communities with high Islamic populations in Paris to show how conservative Muslim men are enforcing social segregation in public spaces.
In the secret footage, activists Nadia Remand and Aliza Sayah from women’s rights campaign group La Brigade des Mères (Brigade of Mothers) enter a shop in Sevran: a commune in the northeastern suburbs of Paris.
‘The café terraces and the streets have something in common: women seem to have been erased,’ Journalist Caroline Sinz narrated:
The group was told by a customer in the shop: ‘It’s best to wait outside. There are men in here.’
Another said: ‘In this café, there is no diversity.’
Outraged, one of the activists asked the manager of the store what it would be like if he wanted to go to a café with a female relative who was denied entry.
‘My cousin stays at home,’ he said. ‘My cousin can do what she wants, but not with me.’
‘In this café, there is no mixing. We are in Sevran, not Paris. Here there is a different mentality. It is like back home,’ he added.
In Lyon, a city farther south, France 2 journalist Sinz spoke to a young woman who said she makes sure to be very careful in how she dresses.
She said she will often wear baggy clothes and no makeup to avoid being targeted by the Muslim men in the neighbourhood.
‘I’m afraid, simple as that,’ she said, when asked why she feels she must alter her appearance.
The undercover report was called an ‘intolerable’ example of ‘discrimination against women’ by Axelle Lemaire, the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs and Innovation.
‘There are now areas in our country where women can no longer go,’ Pascale Boistard, the women’s rights minister, added.
Gender inequality in certain parts of Paris was exacerbated following urban riots in 2005, when conservative Muslim men took control of various neighbourhoods, including Sevran.
Now, feminist group Collectif des Femmes often hosts marches to streets that are dominated by Muslim men in an effort to encourage the group to diversify.
But for many women who live in Sevran, Lyon or elsewhere, their daily lives are still routinely censored.
‘They are afraid, they have already spoken out in many cities, and were insulted and assaulted,’ Sinz told Franceinfo.
‘So now to avoid threats, and being put under pressure, they censor themselves and keep quiet.’