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Minorities’ Rights in France: Many Challenges yet to Be Addressed

31 January 2013

Retrouvez cet article en français au format PDF ici : Les droits des minorités en France : de nombreux défis restent à relever

“Democracy is not the rule of majority but the protection of minority”. These wise words of Albert Camus opened the roundtable on minorities’ rights in France on Friday 25 January, which WILPF attended.

This side-event organized with the support of the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) and the Worldwide Organization for Women, echoes back to the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of France in the United Nations Human Rights Council, of which a summary both in English and French can be found on WILPF International’s website. Indeed, many States had raised the issue of minorities’ rights during this UPR.

Photo of the roundtable on minorities' rightsMarc Leyenberger, expert to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Lola Schulmann, representative of the ROMEUROPE group, and Marouane Mohamed, spokesperson of the Collectif Against Islamophobia in France, together shared with us their expertise and analysis on discrimination and racism endured by immigrant communities (in particular Roma people and Muslims) in France.

The failure of intercultural cohabitation in France

Racism and intolerance are undeniably widespread throughout Europe, including in France. Statistics can prove it: if anti-Semitic acts have decreased by 24% between 2011 and 2012, violence against Muslims has increased by 47% during the same period of time. The threshold of tolerance seems to be going backwards over the years…

The Roma community mainly has to face violations of its economic, social and cultural rights: Lola Schulmann explains us that their access to the labour market remains extremely restricted (despite the recent extension of the list of professions accessible to them), owing to the fact that France, unlike its European neighbour countries, still refuses to lift discriminating transitory measures.

Lola Schulmann also denounces that Roma children’s access to education is made particularly difficult, and sometimes even squarely denied, and that the new government elected in 2012 keeps expelling and dismantling Roma camps without any rehousing solution nor winter break.
One cannot but notice that Romani people remain far from being considered as common-law citizens in France…

But where does such intolerance come from?

The three experts attending this discussion agree to say that the tensions surrounding the current economic context are not favourable to end racism and discrimination.
The economic crisis pulled the most vulnerable groups such as immigrants, Roma and asylum-seekers into a vicious circle. Less and less employment opportunities and social benefits have inevitably increased poverty, thus reinforcing the French society negative perception of these foreign minorities. The real danger remains here in this social divide. Considered as burdens, immigrant communities are the target of discrimination, especially in the face of employment.

But this stereotype of the foreigner coming to France as a parasite with the only aim of taking advantage of social benefits is solely a media fabrication. All these social and economic fears are conveyed by those who can take advantage of them, i.e. media and politicians.

That is why Marc Leyenberger gets passionate when he is denouncing the populist speech of politicians. According to Marouane Mohamed, Islamophobic speech for example comes from both right and left wings: according to right wing, Muslims are threatening the European identity, while for left wing, the Islamic values are contrary to secularism and women’s rights.
One of the stakeholders also argues that media in general is also responsible for “brainwashing” the society by associating violent acts with ethnic minorities, thus developing an amalgam that can lead to xenophobia and intolerance.

How to get out of this situation?

Marouane Mohamed recommends making a global assessment in order to precisely quantify the prejudices endured by foreign communities, and to ensure that the media and political speech gathers all citizens instead of tearing them apart. He reminds that is also essential to take into account the international dimension of this racism and intolerance phenomenon against Muslims and Roma, so that global institutions, independent from local and national political preoccupations, can implement an efficient policy.

Marc Leyenberger strongly encourages civil society to keep up the good work, because if it does not come to grips with this issue, who else will? Civil society has to do its utmost so that combatting prejudices becomes a priority and minorities’ rights are fully respected.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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