On 7th March 2022, a group of women, painted in Ukraine’s flag colours with slogans ‘Stop war Putin’, ‘Feminists against War’, and ‘Slava Ukraini’, protesting topless in front of the Eiffel Tower have gathered the world’s attention. Such protests have recently remerged in France to voice not only political concerns but more importantly women’s issues. Similar protests organized by the group Femen, are known for topless public demonstrations which are symbolic to denounce sexual harassment, gender inequality, homophobia and even political representation. Women in France have now become more vocal about their rights, freedom and equality but this bold participation in public demonstrations was only possible because of the decades-long fight of the French women against their oppression. In this context, this article aims to trace the evolution of the feminist movement in France and how it has remerged in the 21st century.
The evolution of women’s rights in modern France could be traced back to 1944 when women obtained the right to vote after 24 years in the USA and 51 years in New Zealand women had first voted. More progress came in 1965 when married women obtained the right to work and open a bank account without the permission of their husbands. Later in the year 1967, contraceptive pills were legalised which brought about a drastic change. Furthermore, the French women’s liberation movement was born in the wake of the May 1968 uprising with the mission to fight the patriarchy. A few years later in 1975, abortion was legalised thanks to a law championed by Simone Veil. In the year 2000, another law was voted to tackle sexism in politics. According to that law, all political parties must include equal numbers of men and women on electoral lists.
Despite these remarkable legal reforms, in the year 2020, the first female governor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo was fined nearly $110,000 for bringing 11 women to fill 16 top city jobs. Nonetheless, the proportion of women in French government cabinets has been increasing, from 12.5 per cent in 2005 and 2006 to more than 50 per cent in 2021. Yet, France has a long way ahead for gender parity in politics. On the other hand, in the year 2021, thousands of women came down on the streets to demand the French government to increase spending for the prevention of violence against women. This demonstration come amid the growing outrage in France as women are increasingly killed by their partners or ex-partners.
It is said that the emergence of feminism in France is the history of women’s claims to freedom and individualism. It is pertinent to mention that French women were not only victims of discrimination in French society but also of war crimes during the second world war. German troops who invaded France in the 1940s committed widespread atrocities against women, especially against the African colonists. However, today, French women can serve in all areas of the military. In fact, since 2014, women have obtained the right to work in submarines, including nuclear ones.
Historically, in traditional French society, women were considered subordinates to their male counterparts. They were confined to their limited role in ‘women-oriented’ tasks. Thus, several feminist artistic and literary movements emerged in France as a response to their oppression. For instance, in the 16th century, “bureaux d’esprit” or female-led salons were formed for at least the then privileged enough to indulge in intellectual discussions. similarly, the status of women in the 17th-century society could be traced by referring to the writings of Molière, author of enduring plays such as Tartuffe and Le Misanthrope whose audacious, imaginative, satirical and revolutionary writings highlighted and criticised how women were treated as subordinate. For instance, his “Le Malade imaginaire” play gained popularity for his criticism of the medical profession and freedom of rights of women which acted as a catalyst to ignite the flame of a one-of-its-kind cultural revolution. Later in the 19th century, female painters such as Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzalès, and Mary Cassatt pioneered the impressionist movement in France. It is interesting to mention that it emerged at a time when women were not allowed to obtain formal painting education and they were banned from presenting their work at the French Salon. These revolutionary painters through their paintings channelized their inner state which brought out their individuality and paved the way for emerging female artists.
Be it the bold piece by Simone de Beauvoir, “The Second Sex”, famously tracing the historic shreds of evidence of women’s condition and paving the way for women’s personal and bodily autonomy or literary theorist Hélène Cixousin coining the term écriture feminine (feminist writing), the French literature too, has certainly played a crucial role in strengthening the feminist struggle in France.
In more recent times, the debate related to ‘inclusive writing’ or more of ‘feminising’ the French language which has been literally going on for a lot of years (since the 17th century) was officially discussed on a political level last year. It further gained worldwide attention when the National Education Minister rejected this idea because it would mean adapting to a whole new ‘education system’ and changing the orthography for every second word. For instance, for a class filled with 35 men and 55 women, normally in French we say: ‘Ils sont nombreux’ but l’écriture inclusive reinforced the idea of framing the sentence like: ‘Ils et elles sont nombreuses’ or writing ‘Cher•e•s étudiant•e•s’ instead of Chers étudiants, for example. This gender neutralisation of the ‘gendered’ French language where all nouns are assigned a gender, is not limited to inclusive writing but also denounces the gendered nature of the language that promotes sexist outcomes. but, as Albert Camus wrote, “My homeland is the French Language”, any attempt at changing the language is mostly met with suspicion and resistance. However, it is important to note that alone changing the orthography of a language does not necessarily guarantee a change in perception of the society.
Another controversial debate in France is the ban on head coverings such as the burqa. It is a debate revolving around the French principle of laïcité (secularism) and their civil liberties as French citizens. While a few feminists support the protest against the ban, others find the head coverings going against the fundamentals of France’s secular society. Hence, establishing laws around these issues present challenges as well as opportunities for reshaping and redefining the feminist movement.
Nonetheless, France has entered a new era of feminism where the internet and social media is playing a pivotal role. France is no exception in online activism and it too had participated in the online #MeToo campaign. Besides, it is interesting to mention that President Macron had declared gender equality a global cause, “l’égalité femmes-hommes une grande cause Mondiale” in connection with the G7 conference held in France. Furthermore, by 2025, France is committed to ensuring that 75% of the projects funded by France’s official development assistance helps to improve gender equality. Besides, just like Sweden, France is also aiming to adopt a feminist foreign policy to fulfil its commitment to gender equality.
Tenzin Choezom – On turning her struggle into her power
Tenzin Choezom is a Tibetan refugee woman born in exile. Her life has so far oscillated between the borders of India and Nepal. She is also a graduate from Ashoka University and has a Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Studies and Research (Adv. Major in Sociology and Anthropology). She has had a fair share of experience suffering from tinnitus for almost ten years and Meniere’s disease for the last four years. It has always been an endeavor from her end to spread awareness about the disease and create a more empathetic world for everyone.
Tell us more about the problem you are facing.
The prospect of suffering from meniere’s disease is not just physically debilitating but it rots your mental composure as well over the time. It is an everyday inner battle as an individual. But it gets isolating when that battle is not understood within the larger social setting. Unlike the people suffering from cancer which is very obvious, meniere’s disease on the other hand is a chronic invisible illness. A person with meniere’s hardly has any external visible symptoms and everything might seem normal except for the moment when the attack happens which can come at any point in time and is always uncertain. Imagine giving a presentation and you suddenly have a meniere’s attack. You are fully conscious but you have no control over yourself. You are literally spinning, losing your balance, feeling vulnerable in front of others and helpless with constant vomiting(if the dizziness gets intense) and tinnitus (ringing in the ear) which is there 24/7. Oftentimes, as a victim, instead of expecting people to understand what you are going through, you have to first deal with explaining your condition. This is a repetitive reality and it can get daunting because of the massive gap in knowledge of the disease within the community and the larger South Asian context. It is truly disheartening when people hardly acknowledge the existence of the disease as a debilitating condition of the inner ear and straight up say that it is just a mental condition when I try to bridge the gap.
When did your issue get diagnosed?
It was during the summer of 2018. I was all ready to kickstart the summer semester at Ashoka University. But the table turned when I started having consecutive dizziness for a few seconds in the morning every time before my 8:30 class. I was fully conscious when the dizziness happened but I had no control over my balance. My friends would often laugh at me respectfully and say that I was using this as an excuse to not attend the morning class.Whatever they said did not bother me because I was naughty in that way. I was a sleepy head in the first place and would do anything to even get an extra five minutes of sleep. In between the moments of labeling it as an excuse to not attending the morning classes to potentially thinking that I was weak to knowing that my blood pressure level was low, the school infirmary nurses gave me ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts) to drink. I drank it for the first few days but no change. Finally, I decided to visit the doctor at the school infirmary who turned out to be an ENT specialist. I owe a lot to Dr. Priyanka and everyone involved at university for always giving me immense support. When I told her about the incident and my past experiences with tinnitus only after she asked, she referred me to a bigger hospital. I went through different tests (P.T.A, MRI Brain, CBC ESR, S.VirB12, T3T4TSH) and that’s how I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease.
What is the cure?
There is no cure or scientifically proven treatment till date but there are different measures that would help control/alleviate the symptoms. There are different medications, therapies that one can look at and it can vary for different people but as for me, maintaining a salt/caffeine diet really helps.
How are you helping other people who have the same issue?
I have always feared being vulnerable in front of others and being judged because of my illness. It has taken me a while to come to terms with it and accept it as it is. It is a part of me that will remain with me forever. But I have turned this into a purpose to make sure that no one has to suffer silently because of the gap in the knowledge. I hope that my story helps each one of you who are suffering out there to be courageous and open up a conversation with your loved ones and as envisioned, this is a start to bringing more awareness about the disease, empathizing with the individuals, finding the treatment for it scientifically and thriving together as a community for a better tomorrow.
What has helped you to cope with the struggles you are experiencing?
When you see everyone around you enjoying to the fullest, you do not even dare to ruin the moment by having a sudden attack. I had the hardest time accepting this and hence, avoided a lot of social gatherings. But trust me, people are more generous and kinder than you think. So, try a little every day to move past your fear and do what you have always wanted to do. The attack might or might not happen. There is a 50-50 chance. Do not let the uncertainty of attack define your life. Let it come when it wants to come and you will handle it gracefully. It is definitely nerve-racking and it might take a while for you to recover from the trauma of having an attack but you will see a brighter you at the end. It has been a work in progress for me everyday to get better with it. Seek therapy if you have the option to do it, talk to your friends and family, get your frustrations out and cry if you want to, have a balanced salt diet but most importantly, be there for yourself every step of the way. Because you can only understand the magnitude of what you have gone through. And do not ever lose your hope even when it feels difficult. I have made this far and I believe you can too. Besides that, reading really helped and has been so therapeutic for me. I would suggest you read ‘In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying’ by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche la. It has been a savior for me for the longest time and I still go back to it when I feel anxious.
Anything else you want to share?
To those who are suffering out there like me, I see you and can empathize with you fully. I know that it sucks to the core to always be positive when the disease drains your mental and physical energy but life goes on. Living with the fear of attack is the worst thing you are doing to yourself. I know this fact but it is still taking me a while to get over it. But I hope we can outgrow the fear of attack one day and truly live everyday to the best of our ability. I am always here if you need someone to talk to and let’s together create a better world to live for everyone. You can always write to me at tenzin.choezom[at]alumni.ashoka.edu.in Also, thank you to Vidhi for amplifying my story of struggle with Meniere’s and giving a hope to thrive for everyone.
COVID- a way forward with Sustainability & Biodiversity
Since the onset of the COVID- 19 pandemic, a new unprecedented situation has arisen many new challenges including social, health, sustainability and world economic issues. COVID -19 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus II, first identified in Wuhan city of China on December 19, 2021 and until now this virus has reached its sparks to 218 countries and killed 3.9 million people across the world. It magnifies the everlasting impacts of inequality, batting the poor the hardest. Periods of fortified unemployment, global shortage critical medical and personal protective equipment including masks, protection sheets, gloves and medicines further afloat economies resilience by foster sustainable economic systems- low- carbon investment and green infrastructure planning. The G7 and G 20 ensure to finance least developed and developing countries in flattening the pandemic curve along with the extreme focus on sustainable resource development, climate change mitigation measures and fair economies.
Up till now 25% of plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, therefore, countries should consider biodiversity in their COVID19 response and economic recovery plans because land use changes and wildlife exploitation increase the risk of many diseases by bringing humans and domestic animals closer to pathogens and disrupting disease-sustaining ecological processes.
The economy and human well-being depend on food, clean water, flood protection, erosion control, the drive for innovation, and more. More than half of the world’s national production relies heavily on moderate biodiversity. Thus, decline in biodiversity poses a major threat to society. As part of the policy to respond to COVID19, investing in biodiversity can help mitigate these risks while creating jobs and economic incentives.
Although government and business leaders have recognized the importance of green recovery, and their focus is now on climate change. As part of the restoration and environmental protection system, they should talk to each other. Many countries have taken comprehensive measures to protect biodiversity in response to their COVID19 policies. Examples of biodiversity measures include changes to regulations on the wildlife trade to protect human health, and employment programs focused on ecosystem restoration, sustainable forest management, and control of invasive species.
Analysts suggest that the amount of potentially harmful costs incurred as part of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis far outweighs the benefits to biodiversity. Governments should take the necessary steps to integrate biodiversity policies into COVID-19 recovery projects, ensure that COVID-19 economic recovery measures support biodiversity without jeopardizing it, maintain regulation, and reduce land use. , wildlife, wildlife trade and pollution and attach the environmental condition to the bailout to improve stability, screen and monitor stimulus measures of their biodiversity effects due to plastic pollution and now due to mask pollution in seas or Covid- 19 poor disposal of protection equipment. In order to combat such drastic conditions, large investments should be made in the conservation, sustainable use and restoration of biodiversity.
There is no socio-economic development in the current global panorama. These problems and challenges directly affect human psychology, leading to the loss of psychological stability and the escalation of the financial crisis. Especially, because people are threatened by so many threats, there are more and more cases of mental crisis because people are locked at home and told to be As a result of people being told to confine themselves to their homes and maintain self-loneliness, someone is more likely to be severely affected psychologically, further affected by a lack of proper guidance or treatment.
When no resources are provided to manage the well-being of the people, the situation becomes profitable and affects mental health. Regarding the effects on sustainable psychology, the importance of better mental health should be discussed as it affects individual development and counters limit personal activities.
We have had many epidemics in the past. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS outbreak) has hit Asian countries, and West Africa has also been infected with the Ebola virus. They also affected the socio-economic balance, affected public health, and caused numerous similar deaths to what we are experiencing with COVID-19 but the new thing now is that Coronavirus affected us mentally, physically and well-being of the ecosystem with its drawbacks of limiting resources by humans while staying at homes due to partial or national lockdown where they put a burden on economy and ecosystem by overconsumption of natural resources instead at the same time human enclosure at homes give a chance to ecosystem for its resource restoration, replenishing disastrous effects caused by anthropogenic activities like decline in air pollution, soil erosion, mineral leaching, hunting, poaching and wildlife trade.
Humans are deteriorating the habitat of wild animals and the normal cycle of pathogens and their hosts. In such situations, we are becoming more and more prone to new diseases. Human pathogens such as the coronavirus are not fully understood to date and several other strains or wildlife as host of this virus (and many other viruses and bacteria) in nature that could be a matter of global health in the future. The COVID-19 pandemic is calling into question our ongoing efforts to improve the Earth’s environment. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is even more important now. Emphasis should be placed on the adoption of strict wildlife trade regulations and comprehensive measures to protect the natural environment. Most importantly, consider comprehensive ways to improve our relationship with the environment that will lead us to sustainability. Agricultural stability and reduction of dependence on animal products is one such example.
There is no doubt in saying that there are some important lessons to learn from COVID-19. It is about our survival, preparedness and responsibility against nature that will lead to the control of future epidemics. Shutdowns are proving to be viable not only in breaking the chain of infection but also in the healing of the ecosystem. Air and water pollution levels have dropped in many parts of the world and nature has begun to regenerate. The important thing is that what we as human beings learn from it. Will we reduce greenhouse gas emissions evenly, will unnecessary travel be curtailed, will we allow the reduction of pollutants in the ecosystem to let nature breathe, and will we promote and adopt sustainable agricultural practices? And stop disturbing wild habitats? Most importantly, will all stakeholders, including governments, organizations and individuals, unite to fight the epidemic that has been going on for decades and resulting in loss of life and biodiversity? There will be a decrease sooner or later, the deadly coronavirus, and one of the most explosive epidemics of the century will be tackled through vaccines or other means through united efforts across borders of countries and continents. But this is not the first novel pathogen that has targeted us, nor the last. There is a need for a fresh perspective to address some of the key issues we have learned from this pandemic. Therefore, humanity must work together to stop the root causes of these pandemics. The way to deal with such pandemics in advance is to make every effort to achieve the goals of environmental sustainability.
Anagha Rajesh – Founder of Yours Mindfully
Undergrad researcher, storyteller, and community builder- that’s Anagha Rajesh, in a nutshell.
She is the Founder and CEO of Yours Mindfully, a youth-led organization on a mission to make mental health resources accessible to 1 million young people by 2030.
She has worked as an advocate for the Girls in Science 4 SDGs platform that works closely with the United Nations to make STEM accessible. In addition, Anagha has served as a facilitator for the Digital Exchange program empowering middle and high school students to collaborate beyond borders to achieve the UN SDGs.
As a researcher, she is working on a project to identify biomarkers for endometriosis, a painful uterine condition.
Tell us more about your initiative, Yours Mindfully?
Growing up, I saw my uncle suffer from schizophrenia and how the stigma around this condition prevented him from seeking medical support. When I was accepted into the 1000 Girls 1000 Futures mentorship program of the New York Academy of Science in 2019, I shared my uncle’s story with other young people in the program. We realized that mental health is a stigma in most parts of the world and decided to do something to smash that stigma.
We then went on to create e-magazines to create awareness about mental health. That’s how Yours Mindfully was born. We were called MindChamps back then. The popularity of our e-magazines encouraged me to grow our team and focus on areas beyond the e-magazine.
Yours Mindfully is now a team of 30+ young people worldwide, focusing on addressing awareness, inclusion, and accessibility in the mental health space. We create inclusive content, organize webinars, spearhead social media campaigns, and conduct contests to bring more stakeholders.
We have partnered with a range of organizations, including UNICEF, 6 Seconds (UK), Spill the Beans (Australia), Spikeview (USA), Manzil Center (UAE), and Road to Nepenthe (India). In addition, we work closely with mental health professionals to create our resources and partner with educators to get this across to young people.
Over the last three years, our initiatives have impacted 5000+ young people. We are currently piloting a program offering personalized mental health resources to youth organizations and schools.
What is the Ashoka Changemakers program all about?
Ashoka is the world’s largest network of Social Entrepreneurs and Changemakers. Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. is a carefully selected network of young people who have found their power to create change for the good of all and are ready to take on their next big role as co-leaders of the global Everyone a Changemaker movement.
13 young changemakers were selected for the Indian cohort out of 18,000+ applicants globally. Selected changemakers get access to mentorship, digital resources and a volunteer marketplace to further the impact of their initiatives. In addition, young changemakers get involved in getting more young people to become changemakers through focused initiatives.
How did you get selected for this?
The selection process was a 6-8 month long process with the following stages
1. Submission of the nomination form – This involves a detailed description of my changemaking idea – I spoke about Yours Mindfully, the impact I have created so far through the organization and how I plan to co-lead the changemaker movement.
2. National Review – 4 to 5 hours of conversations with Ashoka India Team
3. International Review – 2 to 3 hours of conversations with Senior Leaders and existing Ashoka Young Changemakers from the global network
4. Selection Panel – an in-person pitch to an esteemed jury explaining what the future potential of my changemaking idea is and how invested I am in implementing it
What are you planning to do in the next 5 years?
I plan to grow Yours Mindfully to impact more young people worldwide. I am currently exploring research in biochemistry, entrepreneurship and public policy. I hope to pursue a career at the intersection of these fields in the next 5 years. In addition, I want to explore writing and traveling in a way that helps me grow.
What other programs and fellowships are on your list that you’d like to engage in?
Dalai Lama Fellowship, Clinton Global Fellowship and Rhodes Scholarship (super ambitious!) are some programs that I am hoping to get into
Tell us more about your work at Force of Nature.
Force of Nature is a non-profit working to mobilize young people’s potential to combat the climate crisis.
I completed a three-week introductory program on becoming a force of nature, where I learned about eco-anxiety, the power of narratives in addressing the environmental crisis, and how I can utilize my unique skills to contribute to the climate movement.
Following this generic training, I joined the Canopy pathway to train as a youth consultant to help businesses create and implement solid sustainability strategies
– Under the guidance of experienced youth consultants Clover Hogan and Sacha Wright, I am working on understanding concepts like greenwashing, identifying greenwashing in the sustainability strategies of Fortune 500 companies, and figuring out ways to engage meaningfully with corporate leaders on these issues. I have been on-boarded as a consultant and am looking forward to my first project in the upcoming months.
Anything else you’d like to share about yourself?
I am the first woman from my family and community to get into a top-tier university in India and to kick-start a non-profit. I am super passionate about helping girls and women access networks and mentorship to get ahead on their journeys.
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