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(en) France, UCL AL #330 - Maintenance, Interview with Soumeya, member of the Union of Muslim Women (SFM): " The racist state and complicit justice, it is concrete and public " (ca, de, it, fr, pt, tr)[machine translation]
Fri, 23 Sep 2022 09:38:10 +0300
For more than four years, Muslim women have been campaigning for access to
municipal swimming pools in Grenoble. Coming from working-class neighborhoods,
they carried out several direct actions of protest against the discriminatory
regulations, launched the " Swimming pool for all " movement and were able to
set up a union to fight to establish a balance of power against an opportunist
town hall. The Grenoble group has forged, through the actions carried out, links
with the SFM and is now delivering an interview with one of the members. ----
Libertarian Alternative: Can you introduce the union ? ---- Soumeya: We are the
Union of Muslim Women (SFM) part of the Citizen Alliance (AC), an association
that supports the creation of citizens' unions throughout France. The SFM was
created in 2018 by women from Teisseire, who noticed discrimination against
them, such as the impossibility of taking their children to the swimming pool. By
deepening the subject, it turned out that there were many women concerned and who
were ready to organize themselves and constitute a specific union of Muslim women.
What is the link between the SFM and the Citizen Alliance ?
The CA has the status of an association to which the trade unions are attached.
An inter-union council with representatives from each union acts as the Board of
Directors. In Grenoble, there are currently three CA unions: the Union of
Disabled Citizens, the Union of Tenants and the Union of Muslim Women. There are
three Citizen Alliances in France: Grenoble, Aubervilliers and Grand Lyon. And
eco-unions currently being created. Within the CA, employees are doing work
similar to union organizers in order to form unions of citizens who suffer from
So the SFM was formed in Grenoble ?
Yes, the movement was first launched in Grenoble with the campaign for access to
swimming pools for all, then in Lyon where there were actions against sports
halls with the aim of changing their internal regulations which discriminate
against women wearing headscarves. In 2020, during confinement, a union of Muslim
women from the CA was set up in Paris focused on discrimination in sport against
women wearing the headscarf: the Hijabeuses.
The principle of unions at CA is to mount a campaign against a specific
injustice, winnable quickly and which leads to another campaign, etc. For the
SFM, things happened differently given all the political noise generated and
which was not expected. Our fight has been going on for 4 years, making it the
longest running fight in CA.
Can you recall the chronology of your struggle ?
Our fight started in 2019 with first the launch of a petition which had collected
more than 200 signatures and a meeting with elected officials of the town hall
which led to nothing. In 2019, we still did an action at the Dauphins swimming
pool in Villeneuve , around twenty women went there with covering swimsuits ;
they hadn't been to the swimming pool for 10, 20, 30 years... then another time
at the Jean Bron swimming pool, an action which was repressed by the police and
which generated widespread media noise. The participants did not expect it at all
and lived through real hell, some even moved from Grenoble.
In 2020, confinement requires, it was more complicated to organize or carry out
actions but we continued our reminders to the town hall to request an
appointment. At the end of the confinement, the actions resumed: demonstrations,
banner actions on buildings with the presence of journalists, etc. in order to
put the pressure to be received in town hall.
In 2021, a pool party was organized in the hall of the town hall, and faced with
the refusal to receive us, we redid swimming pool actions, in particular in Jean
Bron where we once again suffered repression from the police. and lifeguards.
Following this we were received by the town hall but the elected officials did
not dialogue and refused our requests en bloc.
In September 2021, the city set up the " citizen inquiry system ": anyone can
file a petition and the number of signatory residents gives access, in stages, to
certain possibilities. With fifty signatures we are entitled to two " mediation
" meetings with elected officials. We have therefore decided to relaunch a
petition. In October, a first mediation made it clear that we are a movement of
women who just want to go swimming. It's not about political Islam, and it
doesn't go beyond the covering shirt. That's when we launched the slogan " my
body, my choice, my jersey "to ask for the removal of the notion of length and
our request no longer only concerned the covering jersey but also the topless for
example. It allowed other women to join our fight.
Following the second mediation which took place at the end of January, the
elected officials were in favor of our request, but Mayor Eric Piolle had the
last word despite a semblance of citizen democracy, and he refused. This
unjustified decision led the elected equal rights representative Chloé Le Bret to
resign, which had a major impact on the town hall internally. So we organized a
rally the same evening to contest this decision.
" A feminist organization and composed mainly of girls, two main characteristics
of the first organizations to have shown their support "
After these events, our petition was no longer useful and we decided to be more
visible in the Grenoble militant community in terms of demonstrations. The first
organization to have supported us, and for a long time the only one, was
NousToustes38, a feminist organization composed mainly of girls, two main
characteristics of the first organizations to have shown their support .
Accidentally, an elected official announced in the press that the town hall would
rule on this subject at the beginning of spring. Piolle, under pressure for
months and obliged to meet this deadline taken over and publicized by the SFM,
announces that the subject of the covering jersey is on the agenda of the
Municipal Council of May 16. After this announcement, a discussion channel with
the city is set up in order to clarify the exchanges and because the town hall
especially did not want there to be another swimming pool action, to avoid
tensions with all the national spotlights trained on Grenoble - Piolle being
attacked from all sides. And that's what was strong in our movement, we managed
to impose a balance of power through our actions and the media noise that it
generated, with newspaper headlines that scathing: " Piolle sends the national
police to prevent women from bathing .
The period between the announcement of the agenda of the municipal council of May
16 and its holding was a very eventful period between the national press, the
fachos, Wauquiez who spoke of withdrawing subsidies in Grenoble if it passed...
How do you perceive the media ? Are they your allies or not so much by making
your fight a huge subject when it is only a question of changing an internal
It does not come from us this desire to create a huge subject. We know that the
country is crazy on these issues, but at this point... Between the announcement
of the municipal council's agenda and May 16, there was a period when we no
longer controlled anything, the town hall no longer controlled anything, the
whole country took up the subject. We easily did 5 to 6 interviews a day with all
the national press that came down, Europe 1, BFMTV and France Inter at the same
time in the streets of Grenoble doing micro sidewalks then coming to the AC
offices to have us interviewed .
We were sorting, BFMTV we don't answer, CNEWS we don't answer. Generally we took
everyone except the worst. Valeurs Actuelles contacted us: " It's really
difficult to meet one of your activists ! » . As soon as a journalist got my
number, they passed it on to each other. My phone didn't work anymore, now it's
better but I received between 50 to 100 messages per hour, all applications
combined, from 7 a.m. to midnight. And the closer May 16 approached, the more
difficult it became for us with the organization of this big event.
" It was also at this moment that we realized the balance of power "
But we knew that our victory depended on our ability to respond to journalists.
So we chained the interviews to repeat the same things, with the elements of
language, etc. for journalists who knew very well when they arrived what would be
written, no matter what they were going to say. It was also at this moment that
we realized the balance of power. The media, if they wanted their article to
stand out from the others, they knew that there had to be our word in it. We
allowed ourselves to say to some: " no, we don't want to answer you ". Whereas
at the beginning, as soon as the little local newspaper wanted to write something
about us, we said yes. The journalists wanted to talk to us and it was up to us
to decide whether we wanted to talk to them or not. That's when we realized that
something had changed and that we had become indispensable when we talked about
Something remarkable happened to us ten days before May 16th. Someone knocks at
our offices and introduces himself: " Hello, I am a journalist at Le Parisien ,
can I have an interview ? While normally journalists do not come unannounced, we
first had to agree on an appointment . We make it wait, but we decide to accept
it, saying to ourselves that it would still be good for an article in Le Parisien
. We found him quite nice and we even offered him coffee. During the interview he
took up our elements of language by talking to us about patriarchy, feminism, he
took notes, thanked us and left. And there, three days later, the article from Le
Parisienaccuses us of filing, of entering the town hall by putting pressure on
elected officials and of being an association of Islamists, etc. He accuses us of
filing because of our membership documents: when you join, it's normal that there
is your information. These are the methods of the CA but when we go door to door
we have a " comments " box where we put for example the reason for someone's
anger, what makes him want to engage. Like any association, like any union, like
any political party. It was taken out of context, just to damage our image. The
two boxes that came out and that caused controversy were one where we had put: "
vote FN "and suddenly it was to tell himself not to talk to him about the
covering jerseys, because he was a tenant and therefore only interested in the
struggle of the tenants. And another box where it said someone had just had
surgery and it was just to say that she couldn't come to the meetings and there
was no point in calling her for actions and meetings because she had just been
released from the hospital. In Le Parisien they insinuated that we practice
racial, ethnic and personal health data !
We see that some reports highlight testimonies that oppose your claims, but you,
what were the reactions you saw during your pool actions ?
There are indeed people who are against our approach, especially men, but we also
have a lot of people who support us and who do not hesitate to show it by leaving
the pool and refusing to enter the pool out of solidarity. . Often people, during
our swimming pool actions, come to us to ask us questions about our claims and in
this case we explain to them. There are people in our group whose role will be to
discuss with others and make them aware of our struggle.
" Now in the militant milieu people recognize us, know which organizations we
belong to, before that was not the case "
But given that the strategy of the police and the lifeguards is to give us the
wrong role by closing the pool to everyone and making us responsible, it is
sometimes delicate with the other users and users. There are several who tell us:
" I'm hot, I wanted to swim but I'm going to leave, there's no way I'm going to
swim if you're not entitled to it " . And so there are several who leave, that's
good - at the same time a guy starts talking to a girl from the union and says to
her " You're rehired, I work all day and I'm hot, I just want to come and relax
and I can't ". The comrade tries to answer her that she actually hasn't been
able to bathe since she was little. She tried to stay " square " but burst into
tears. It was a very moving moment. That's where we took the photo that was shown
with the replies to the police in front of the swimming pool. We stayed in front,
chanting slogans, taken up by other people. I feel like it's kind of the first
time people started to recognize us. Now in the militant milieu people recognize
us, know which organizations we belong to, before that was not the case.
At the same time, there is someone in the queue for the swimming pool who comes
to see us and who says to us: " You know, this is the first time that I have
seen a woman wearing a headscarf smiling. And there we understood the extent of
the work that we were going to have to do.
When leaving, we walk along the pool on the way back and there we hear all the
people who were in the water starting to pick up our song and with the windows
open it's a bit like in a gymnasium, it made you super loud and you could hear
them from the street ; we didn't know who it was since we hadn't been able to get
in. It was a strong moment.
Can you tell a little more about the events of the pool action at Jean Bron in 2019 ?
In Jean Bron, swimming itself is going well, but it's at the exit of the swimming
pool that we see cops and CRS trucks waiting for us. And there is panic, because
at the SFM and within the AC in general, we are women who experience
discrimination and who have a desire to act against it. We organize ourselves and
see that it is possible to fight, but we are not seasoned activists who expect
Identity checks, pressure, intimidation... and it is this moment that marks the
beginning of the over-mediatization, of the pressures. The national media quickly
seized on the subject when they came to Grenoble.
The women who took this action in Jean Bron lived through real hell, they
received threats at home, suffered pressure from their husbands and families.
Even the Imam of Teisseire, who had not been asked his opinion, took a stand in
the affair by condemning the action of the women in the swimming pool. And by
adding to it the relentlessness of the arrests in the street and the media noise,
up to the envelopes that we received with excrement at the premises of the AC.
All this pressure, whether from the media or from families, has made the fight
very complicated, especially for people who are not militant people and therefore
are not prepared for things to take on such a large scale. , despite their
familiarity with the Islamophobic climate.
In addition, the AC had difficulty in registering in the Grenoble militant
network, so there was little support and total isolation. Because of that, of all
the women present in 2019, only one remains. The other women, we can no longer
reach them. And the pressure was also aimed at their children, whether from their
teachers or other children.
Following this action and the media noise it generated, the elected officials
agreed to receive us but refused to listen to us and contented themselves with
reading a press release written by Eric Piolle. The year 2019 therefore ends on
this lack of dialogue with the town hall.
Have any of you ever been in custody ?
No, they tried to push us to make mistakes with provocation and intimidation, but
we always kept our calm.
What do you think of the use of the word burkini ?
At the SFM, we do not use this word (just like the word " veil ") which has
been popularized by the right and the extreme right by making the link with the
burqa , the integral veil which does not any part of our claim type. We prefer
to use the term covering shirt which also allows to include people who would wear
it for other reasons, such as allergies or others.
Do you think that the broadening of claims to topless has changed public opinion ?
We think it played yes. We are convinced that if we were able to go so far it is
because we used elements of feminist language in our speech, that we were no
longer fighting just for the covering jersey but also for the topless. And no one
challenged the idea of topless at the pool too much since everyone was focused on
wearing a covering swimsuit. And in real life, so much the better, it's all good
for this fight.
How was the period before D-Day on May 16 for you ?
This whole period was very painful, harassment on the networks, we are recognized
and a little bored in the street, fachos hang around in front of our offices...
We had our offices at the PCF, but given the pressure and the tensions, he
decided to put everyone in " telework ", at the worst possible time. We had to
work from home, in cafes etc. It was hot to be on the phone in the street, in the
tram, because as soon as they heard about the AC people turned around. I have
already been followed by guys who wanted to hear what I was saying on the phone.
We only went to two or three cafes where we knew we could talk without fear. But
everyone, the whole town was aware of what was going on, and was divided on these
As May 16 approached, the Ministry of the Interior increased the pressure on the
association. Several months ago, in fact as soon as we started to be a union of
Muslim women which organizes itself politically, we had a visit from the DGSI to
the offices. The PCF paid them a visit because we weren't there. Visit of the
DGSI in the offices, generally it is to put microphones. It's crazy the means
used to prevent the organization of Muslim women. We understood that we were
wiretapped, or in any case under surveillance, whether in the office with men in
suits and ties hanging around in front of us, or on our mailboxes. But we weren't
prepared for all that, the AC is a citizens' organization, we didn't know we
could come to this, we're on Gmail, we are on WhatsApp... So we knew that our
emails were read, that our calls were heard, our WhatsApps monitored... with the
pressure increasing, the fachos who came to the offices... It was really a whole,
and more we were approaching May 16 and worse it was. We were aware that whatever
the decision on D-Day, it was not going to stop overnight. In Grenoble it is not
common for an organization to be so repressed, even though it uses legal channels
and has no revolutionary project. We didn't think it would fall on us. We were
aware that whatever the decision on D-Day, it was not going to stop overnight. In
Grenoble it is not common for an organization to be so repressed, even though it
uses legal channels and has no revolutionary project. We didn't think it would
fall on us. We were aware that whatever the decision on D-Day, it was not going
to stop overnight. In Grenoble it is not common for an organization to be so
repressed, even though it uses legal channels and has no revolutionary project.
We didn't think it would fall on us.
It was very strong what we were able to do collectively with the other activists
Without access to our offices, we found ourselves isolated when we had to work
together. We no longer even dared to speak with other activists or go to militant
places in Grenoble like 38 or 102 for fear of getting our comrades in trouble.
We were dangerous where we were going.
Regarding D-Day, we were originally supposed to hold the event at the Tourist
Office but the metropolis blocked access to the room, so on May 16, the same
morning, we were in talks before the administrative court. to request access to
the room for our event, which was to be held in the evening... and we were
With this refusal, and given that we were expecting at least 300 people at the
screening, we put pressure on the town hall, which finally freed up a room for
us. At the time of the event, we see the audience of journalists who were
there... it was impressive, with the sound poles and everything. We called on all
the national teams of the Alliance, with the Muslim women's unions of the three
cities, the hijabeuses, the employees of the Alliance of the three cities, the
girls of Lyon, and we held meetings to prepare and where the watchword was to SAY
NOTHING in the room with all the journalists etc. We had to be irreproachable and
we had to manage the behavior of all the people at the event in addition to the
order service, because it could fall on us.
We had echoes of fachos coming down from Lyon, Reconquest rallies... We had to
and we were able to make a dissuasive SO for May 16 thanks to the antifascist
interorga, it was very strong what we had been able to do collectively with the
After the favorable result, in the evening the prefecture which tweets that it
attacks the regulation with a secularism summary. It was the law against
separatism that allowed this, which allows the state to intervene within 48 hours
for serious violations of the principles of secularism . The days that followed
May 16... we paid for our victory: the PCF which does not renew the lease and
officially kicks us out, Le Parisienand all the others continue with their
articles, the prefecture itself seizes the prosecutor for the filing, the
director of the AC spends three hours in free hearing. A comrade is fired from
her job because she was visible in the photos of May 16, another who is attacked
in the street... The repression and violence are far from over !
What happened after May 16 ?
The prefecture blocks the decision of the Municipal Council and we therefore go
to the public session at the administrative court. There we discover that
Darmanin himself is behind this call which says word for word that the town hall
of Grenoble has suffered Islamist, terrorist, community pressure. When we arrived
in court, there were four of us and we found, without being prepared for it, with
a number of journalists and with UNI Grenoble.
Regarding the decision, we were quite confident because the lawyers, our lawyer
and even law professors at the University of Grenoble Alpes said that the appeal
was not going to pass. But the atmosphere in the room does not reassure us, the
judges make fun of the city lawyer and the UNI takes the opportunity to launch: "
it's the tablecloths I think they want to allow in the water ", the room
laughs, the judges do not call for silence. While we, to avoid getting fired, we
don't say anything, we don't laugh.
After two hours, we learn that the article is suspended for reason of: "
non-respect of the principle of neutrality of the public service " by affirming
that it was to yield to a communitarian request and an attack on secularism. It
was a blow to see that justice also took up the elements of language of the
extreme right and the fachos. The city tweets in the evening that it is
appealing. The Council of State then sets a date for the hearing.
At that moment, we face everything that we theorize about the racist State and
complicit Justice, it is concrete and public. Darmanin put pressure on the court,
it is no longer legal decisions, it is political decisions.
In Rennes, there is already a regulation which allows the wearing of the covering
jersey, why has it blocked so much in Grenoble ?
In Grenoble, article 10 of the regulations has an inconsistency: it is written
that the swimsuits must be close to the body but can go up to mid-thigh, which
very explicitly describes the swimsuit covering the burkini type, but also that
the swim shorts are prohibited. So the article is too derogatory for burkinis,
while in Rennes swim shorts are authorized, so the covering swimsuit is no exception.
Basically, if the Council of State went in the direction of the prefecture by
saying that it is an attack on the principle of neutrality, Rennes as well as
other French cities would have been obliged to review the regulations. This
campaign could no longer be launched in other cities. Conversely, if the Council
affirms that it is not a question of secularism and that we win, this would
oblige all the cities where women have requested it, to authorize bathing in a
covering swimsuit. Case law. That's why we ruled out this path from the start,
We can add that it is also because in Grenoble it comes from a request from a
group of concerned people who have organized themselves, who take direct action
and who manage to establish a balance of power sufficient to switch a
municipality. In Rennes it's just a decision that the town hall took alone,
without people making this claim for several years. That's why it got so much
criticism, everyone wanted to know who was going to win.
There is a vagueness concerning the result of the fight, was it won or not ?
After analysis, now in Grenoble you can go swimming in a swimsuit covering the
surf suit type, but the skirt is a problem because it is not close to the body
and at mid-thigh.
Basically, it's a victory for us because in Grenoble topless is allowed and you
can come and bathe in a bathing suit without a skirt. They were unable to
completely let us win, so it depends on how the story is told.
How did the Grenoble militant community react ?
At first it was complicated, each person from X organization or collective who
supported us, came back to his organization saying: " Ok ! We sign the press
release ", but she was directly confronted with the reaction of her comrades: "
Are you sure ? because issues of the veil divide feminists, etc. ". So we knew,
it made us laugh and we wanted to say to each new supporter: " go back to your
organization first, we know very well what the reaction of your comrades will be
". But the people who support us really do, because we know that in the militant
milieu, left-wing circles do not have consensus. And in 2019 that's really what
was missing, when women were threatened, there was no one to support them.
After May 16, after our victory, we had more support, everyone agrees with the
victory. Some criticize the Alliance for having employees, say that we are
capitalists, that we should not capitalize on our activism, etc., you can hear
it. But it's not because you don't agree that you have to refuse to organize
yourself with us who take it seriously. It's not because you don't agree that you
shouldn't join the SO on the evening of May 16 when we know that there are all
the fascists from France who are coming.
What would you like to say or what do you say to people on the left who are still
reluctant, who may be in relation to this famous notion of secularism or to the
different ways of seeing feminism ?
I think it's all of these issues that keep the left from being united and get
stomped on every time a law is passed. In Grenoble, because we are there and
because we fight together through the anti-fascist interorga, for example, we
were able to make unitary SOs for our event. We know that if tomorrow the town
hall makes a very local Islamophobic law, we will fight together against that.
That's why it's important that all struggles develop locally. And then if we
spend our time saying: " Ah, I don't agree with that, and with that ! » we will
not get out of it.
And since we are identified as a Union of Muslim Women, as activists but not
exactly , there are people who want to make us uncomfortable in interviews and
who ask us: " But religious point of view on... " and ask us all sorts of
questions about homosexuality, for example. We answer them: " you won't be able
to divide us with your questions, we haven't been doing this for a long time " .
" It makes us laugh, we come to shake up too many things at the same time ! »
And that's why our union is attacked from all sides, from the right, from the
left, from fascists, but also from Muslim people because we are fighting with
everyone and we have understood that ultimately we have a common enemy. People
were going crazy: " What ! You are fighting for women to be able to bathe topless !
- And it does not bother you ??
- Not at all ! ". Convergence of Struggles isn't just a buffer, it's in action.
And the last big feminist demonstrations, November 25 and March 8 were good for
that, I had the impression that no one questioned our place. At the moment we are
talking about the 4th wave of feminism with this notion of intersectionality: the
three subjects that make divergence within feminism are women who wear
headscarves, trans women and sex workers. So obviously we on our side have
overcome these differences for a long time, and nothing prevents us from fighting
together with these women there because we are fighting for the same thing: the
right to self-determination of our bodies and our lives. .
People are in " What ! In addition they combine ! Muslim women defend sex
workers, but what are they saying ! " It makes us laugh, we come to shake up too
many things at the same time ! But it's cool because we learn a lot, for example,
about the fight on validism because we fight with disabled women from the AC and
vice versa. For example, we did a training on civil disobedience, a very
interesting training but it was an old white guy who was not at all aware of what
audience he was addressing, ultra sexist, validist and Islamophobic on the edges.
It's a girl from the handi-citizen union who says to him " Ah! It's not good
what you just said is Islamophobic ! and before fighting with us she wouldn't
have been aware of that at all, that's what we have to reproduce everywhere !
Interview by Nada and Ram (UCL Grenoble)
 a popular district of Grenoble
 Our 2016 article on a neighborhood where, already, nothing had changed.
 More can be found on this subject with the Instagram post of Miana Bayani,
member of the SFM, on the expression " veiled women ".
 self-managed places in Grenoble
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