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AJE Listening Post: Charlie Hebdo: A satirical return

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You can watch my contribution to this episode of the Listening Post examining media coverage of the Charlie Hebdo affair.


Written by Myriam Francois

January 10, 2015 at 10:27

Should we ban the face veil? Some of my media commentary

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BBC London 94.9 with Vanessa Feltz – 17/09/2013 – Listen here

BBC Five Live with Stephan Nolan – 15/09/2013, 11h30PM: Listen here

BBC Radio 2 – 16/09/2013, with Jeremy Vine, 12h05PM: Listen here

I also spoke to Barbara Serra at Al Jazeera at 10h30pm
MFC al jazeera

and to Dermot Murnaghan at Sky News at 10h45 AM, in discussion with Lib Dem candidate Maajid Nawaz

MFC sky veil 2

me majid sky

Written by Myriam Francois

September 16, 2013 at 13:05

AJEnglish: “France: police brutality, not burkas, the source of tensions”

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Until recently, the Parisian suburb of Trappes was famous for producing some of France’s brightest stars, including footballer Nicolas Anelka and comedian Jamel Debbouze. But this weekend, it gained notoriety as the site of the latest burka ban controversy.

At the heart of the recent protests is a concern over systemic and institutionalised racism in France’s establishment and the unwillingness on the part of politicians and sections of the media, to confront it.

The disturbances began following the ID check of a woman wearing the face veil. What ensued remains unclear, with dramatically diverging testimonials from police and eyewitnesses.

The police claim face-veil clad Hajjar, who was accompanied by her mother, husband and four month old baby resisted the check and that her husband reacted violently, assaulting an officer. Official sources present the resultant protests as opposition to the enforcement of the 2011 ban on face veils by ‘Islamic militant elements’.

For her part, Hajjar claims she and her husband, 21 year old Michael, were the victims of excessive force used by bigoted police officers. Eyewitnesses confirm Hajjar’s testimonial that she was violently dragged by her hair and pinned against a police car. Her husband intervened and was handcuffed.

Both Hajjar and eyewitnesses deny police claims that the couple were violent towards police officers. According to Samba, a representative for the Association of residents of Trappes, a North African woman who attempted to intervene was told to “sod off, you dirty Arab”, by officers present.

A 2009 Amnesty International report highlighted how allegations of unlawful killings, beatings, racial abuse and excessive use of force by France’s police officers are rarely investigated effectively. Despite accusations of gross human rights violations, often against ethnic minorities, officers are seldom brought to justice.

Just last year, 30 year old Wissam El Yamni fell into a coma and died in police custody following a forceful arrest. It has been a year, and no police officer has been put on trial or has even faced a judge. No explanations have yet been offered on why Wissam’s body showed bruises, red marks around his neck as well as fractures.

Also last year, residents of Aulnay sous-Bois accused the police of complicity in the death of 25 year old Christian Lambert during a stop and search. Although official reports claim he died of a heart attack, friends point to the excessive use of force by officers on the day which they felt was partly to blame.

Allegations of police brutality are not uncommon in France’s poorest neighbourhoods where the police are often viewed as a violent instrument of state repression, subduing the poorest and most marginalised, with little accountability. Just days before this most recent incident, residents of Aulnay-sous-bois complained of the police’s heavy handed tactics during Bastille Day celebrations on July 14th, in which municipal employees claim to have been beaten by officers.

These incidents are indicative of the tense relationship between residents of certain neighbourhoods and some of the officers charged with policing the areas. Just days after the disturbances in Trappes, French Muslim website al-Kanz posted screenshots from an unofficial police Facebook forum, “Forum Police-Info”, in which officers expressed racism and violent intent including a call to “empty your munitions in Trappes” and “watch out for cameras and take no prisoners” as well as support for the Far Right.

“Spent the night in Trappes, poor France, long live bleu Marine”, one post read, in reference to national front leader Marine Le Pen. The page has since been taken down, as has the profile of one of the officers who appeared to have been present in Trappes, but the feeling that officers are often racist and bigoted prevails.

Politicians and sections of the French media have framed the incident as reflecting tensions over the ban on face veils, however Hajjar states she has previously been stopped because of her face veil and no trouble resulted.

Although the ban on face veils is perceived in some circles are another opportunity to stigmatise Muslims, recent events reflect far deeper anxieties over police brutality, an unwillingness among government officials to hear sections of the French citizenry and double standards in the treatment of ethnic minorities who already experience discrimination in many facets of French life, from employment to housing.

Valls’ statement confirms a widespread sentiment that French citizens who live in impoverished suburbs, be they Muslim or not, don’t matter and that violence against them occurs in all impunity.

Despite the law banning face veils having been justified on the basis of protecting public order (although there is no evidence it previously threatened it), the law has led to increased discrimination against Muslim women, including acts of violence by vigilantes.

With worrying acts of Islamophobia increasingly common in France, including at a legislative level where UMP MPs are now seeking to extend the ban of the headscarf from the public sector to the private sector, many French Muslims feel the authorities are deaf to their concerns.

Hajjar’s offence was no more serious than a minor traffic infraction – but the treatment which she, and others, allege followed is far more serious. In dismissing accounts of police brutality, the authorities are confirming the widely held perception of a system in which residents of poorer suburbs, minorities and Muslims in particular are less worthy of public protection and fair game for stigmatisation and violence. France has yet to have an equivalent to the Stephen Lawrence case, a watershed moment in which the entire police force is made to confront its racist elements.

In response to the events in Trappes, Valls insisted there is “only one law in this country”, a law burka-clad women could not be absolved from obeying. It is time for an independent inquiry which can help heal the chasm in French society by vindicating victims of police abuse and reassuring the residents of Trappes and elsewhere that indeed, there is only one law and that no one stands above it. Not even the police.

Original article here

Al Jazeera English: Maternity Discrimination on the Rise as Women Pay the Price of Austerity

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My latest at Al Jazeera English, also on the Huff Post:

When Sarah approached her manager at a large media company about taking maternity ‎leave, she found herself bargaining over the duration: “I knew I wanted six ‎months to be with my son, but she immediately started talking me down, saying four months ‎was plenty. I felt pressured to agree to take less time”. When Sarah returned to work, her ‎manager informed her that she would not be entitled to “special treatment” and announced ‎she’d been posted to a new job which involved travelling every few weeks, for months at a ‎time. “I wasn’t sacked, but they made it impossible for me to stay. I’d specifically said I ‎didn’t want a post which involved too much travelling for extended periods, but when I ‎returned, that was the only job on offer to me.” ‎

Stories like Sarah’s are increasingly common. A report released today by the group Working ‎Families has revealed high levels of maternity discrimination for the third year running, ‎reinforcing recent research suggesting this is a growing trend. ‎

Despite this, very few women take any formal action. According to the most recent national ‎research in 2005, of women who lost their jobs due to discrimination, 8% took action, while ‎only 3% went to tribunal. The vast majority (71%) did nothing, a statistic advocacy group ‎Maternity Action put down to women being “very cautious out of fear, they’ll be labelled ‎trouble makers – a lot of women simply go quietly”. Sarah Jackson, chief executive of ‎Working Families stated “we have far too many callers who, even when advised about their ‎rights, are reluctant to take action for fear of losing their jobs”. And as of this year, women ‎taking a pregnancy discrimination claim to an employment tribunal will face fees of £1,200, ‎deterring many more. ‎

In 2005, the Equal Opportunity Commission found that 30,000 women each year were losing ‎their job as a result of pregnancy discrimination. Today, campaigners describe increasing ‎levels of unfair selection of pregnant women and new mothers for redundancy and described ‎the discrimination as increasingly “blatant”. Figures show that one in seven women in a recent ‎survey by OnePoll had lost their job while on maternity leave. The Fawcett Society believes in ‎times of austerity, when employers cannot afford to take any perceived risks to profits and ‎growing business, discrimination against women in the workplace is likely to rise. The ‎downsizing and restructuring of many companies due to the economic recession has meant a ‎hike in redundancies, with many pregnant and new mothers adversely affected and those in ‎less skilled jobs perceived as dispensable.‎

In many cases, pregnant women or new mothers are made to feel they no longer have a place ‎within the company, with attitudes towards pregnancy increasingly hostile. Just last month, ‎Mark Thomas, the former chief executive of BBC Studios & Post Production, was accused of ‎declaring that “female workers of child-caring responsibilities should not hold senior ‎management positions”. Businessman Lord Alan Sugar, who’d previously stated that the way ‎to get round the laws protecting pregnant women was not to employ them, has also criticised ‎laws which ban interviewers from grilling women about whether they want children. And ‎such attitudes are not restricted to a few renegades, with a government survey indicating that ‎‎24% of men thought that women on maternity leave should be made redundant before ‎anyone else. ‎

For Rosalind Bragg, whose organisation Maternity Action has also recorded a hike in ‎discrimination, media coverage of pregnancy leave negatively affects women’s perception of ‎their rights: “Media coverage of maternity leave increasingly represents this as a burden on ‎business, and this has definitely influenced women’s approach to their maternity rights”. The ‎consequence of these misrepresentations is women often feel unsure about their entitlements, ‎and guilty for demanding their rights. She added: “Many women are unaware of the law ‎prohibiting pregnancy discrimination and do not recognize their experiences as ‎discrimination.” From the notion of ditzy mums ill-equipped to handle the pressures of work ‎through to portrayals of ‘yummy mummies’* unabashedly enjoying iced Frappuccino’s while ‎their employers foot the bill, feminist writer Glosswitch notes “almost all mummies – no ‎matter who they are or what they’re doing – are perceived to be a bit rubbish.” ‎

The very perception of pregnant woman betrays assumptions concerning their abilities and ‎reliability. A 2007 study found that “visibly pregnant women managers are judged as less ‎committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative, but warmer, more emotional, ‎and more irrational than otherwise equal women managers who are not visibly pregnant”. ‎What’s more, research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests bearing children ‎means women are “judged to be significantly less competent” and were “least likely to be ‎hired or promoted”. Such perceptions are born out in the cases handled by charities like ‎Working Families. One caller who was four months pregnant was sacked following her three ‎month probationary period with her employer stating that she “would be focusing on other ‎things and that she wouldn’t be capable of doing the job”.‎

Among the core concerns listed in Working Families’ report is “employer imposed changes to ‎working patterns which undermine parents’ ability to combine work and childcare”. The ‎organisation found many more employers in 2012 were too quick to turn down a request for ‎flexible working, which combined with the impact of childcare tax credit cuts, ‎disproportionately and negatively impacts women. Britain has some of the highest childcare ‎costs in the world, in an economic climate which renders the cost of childcare relative to ‎wages so disadvantageous as to push women towards non-remunerated work within the home ‎‎- even when they’d rather be out working for a salary.

Among the incidents handled by the ‎group was an employer insisting that a female staffer work a late night rota. If she did, she ‎could not pick her child up in time from nursery and it would cost her between £60 and £80 ‎in charges for every late night worked. Despite informing the employer that she was ‎struggling to feed her children and was feeling “completely and utterly desperate”, her ‎employer responded that it was “her choice to have children”. For many women, flexible ‎hours are not simply a luxury, they are a basic necessity allowing them to remain in the ‎workplace. ‎

Liz Gardiner, head of policy for Working Families believes the government’s Children and ‎Families Bill, which seeks to promote a system of shared parental leave, including extending ‎the right to request flexible working to all employees, could help tackle pregnancy related ‎discrimination. “Improving rights for fathers to take paternity leave, would make it harder for ‎employers to view women of child bearing age as the problem”. She also believes it is high ‎time an EHRC review was conducted to document what she deems a ‘hardening of attitudes ‎among employers’. At a time when the UK ranks 18th of 27 countries on job security and ‎pay for women, the ‘motherhood penalty’ perpetuates the glass ceiling and fails to recognise ‎the true contribution of mothers to society. ‎

Written by Myriam Francois

March 15, 2013 at 18:27

Upcoming events..

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I’ll be participating in the Al Jazeera discussion program “Head to Head” with journalist Mehdi Hasan, interviewing author Irshad Manji this Friday 1st of March.
Tickets to the event are free and can be reserved at
(Please state how many tickets, and give the names of the other people requesting a space.)

I’ll also be speaking at the Unite Against Fascism Conference this Saturday 2nd of March alongside Ken Livingstone, Owen Jones, Daniel Trilling, Marwan Mohamed and others – more details here

Written by Myriam Francois

February 27, 2013 at 16:55