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Universal Periodic Review of France: Discrimination Remains a Daily Preoccupation

25 January 2013

This article is also available in French: Examen Périodique Universel de la France : Les discriminations demeurent une préoccupation quotidienne

This week, the 15th session of the Universal Periodic Review started here in Geneva, and for its first review, that of France, we were there.

During France’s review, a few issues were pointed out, many regarding in particular the second generation of human rights, i.e. those now known as social, economic and cultural rights.

Indeed, the main human rights violations highlighted by the Working Group were:

–       Discrimination and intolerance towards ethnic minorities, especially Romani people

–       Discrimination against religion and particularly against the Muslim faith

–       The living conditions of detainees in French prisons

–       Child pornography and exploitation

–       Gender inequality in the workplace

The discrimination against immigrant communities

The UPR Working Group urged France to end the persistent discrimination against Romani people, to find a livable and durable solution to the sanitation issue of settlement camps, and to reinforce its legislative framework to ensure Roma’s equal access to education, employment, housing and health.

François Zimeray, French ambassador for human rights, admitted that Roma people living in France are suffering from deeply rooted prejudices as well as racial discrimination, and that since they are not legally recognized as a specific group within the French society, they could not benefit from minority protection rights.

He further insisted on the high degree of complexity of the situation of these communities, owing to the fact that this issue is undoubtedly present in other European countries as well, and therefore requires the full cooperation of the European Union and of Roma people themselves.

In addition to the Roma question, several Muslim States brought up the major issue of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in France. They made reference to the controversial laws of 2004 and 2010, banning wearing conspicuous religious symbols and covering the face in public schools and spaces, and called upon France to amend them, as they constitute discrimination towards the Muslim religion.

Veiled Muslim women are the first victims of this discrimination, since their access to employment is made much more difficult.

Many other countries denounced the discrimination endured by all African populations, the high level of unemployment among migrants and the general religious intolerance towards Muslims.

In his response, the French ambassador reminded the UPR of the principle of secularism (i.e. the separation of the State from religious institutions) as a fundamental value of the French Republic, but he also insisted on the fact that secularism was a principle of freedom, not a denial of religions; though it is used as an argument for the above-mentioned laws to prohibit anything that would be considered as religious symbols.

According to him, these laws are actually a manner to relieve tensions in French society, as they only aim to condemn a behaviour that is contrary to the ‘social contract’ of the society and that excludes women from social life. He stated that covering one’s face prevents any form of social interaction and is a denial of one’s identity.

However, as has been mentioned, the consequences on everyday life for many women are that they suffer a double discrimination: for being women and for being Muslim.

Gender inequality

Regarding the inequalities between men and women in the workplace, the Working Group praised the re-establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Rights. It also encouraged France to enhance gender equality further, especially in the workplace, by increasing women’s representation both in the public and private sectors, particularly in high-level positions.

France’s backwardness concerning gender equality is obvious, but changing institutions is not sufficient to reach gender equality: it’s above all a matter of mentality, as the main difficulty is to put an end to sexist stereotypes.

What can we do now?

Now civil society, like our WILPF Section in France, has a great tool to make sure that all the recommendations made at the UPR will effectively be implemented within the next four years. In that way, human rights can become a reality for all.

All the recommendations will be found soon in the UPR website and in UPR-info website.

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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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