Fadela Amara, an activist and former minister in the French government, spoke about the situation of Muslim women in France and defended the controversial "burqa ban" at International House on Wednesday night.
Amara began by relaying the history of banlieues, the working class neighborhoods that surround French cities. Originally diverse, composed of native French and immigrant populations fighting for the same social and labor issues, now many neighborhoods primarily house poor Muslim families. During this transition, few politicians took up the cause of improving the lives of residents, and their political alienation provided fertile ground for fundamentalist movements. This led to a surge in what Amara referred to as "more arcane traditions" —namely forced marriage, polygamy, circumcision, and violence against women.
It was around this time that Muslim girls and women began wearing the veil and the burqa. As the founder of the activist group Ni Putes Ni Soumises, translated as "Neither Whores nor Submissive," and later as the Secretary of State for Urban Policies, Amara strongly supported the 2010 law that banned face coverings. Though the ban was overwhelmingly supported in France, with 70 percent in favor of it, it proved a controversial topic among some Muslims, feminists, and civil libertarians around the world.