Najat Vallaud Belkacem became the first French Female Education Minister, In 2014
Hers is a French story of rags to riches and overcoming obstacles that most assume to be insurmountable. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is proof for women that feminism has reached a pinnacle of success in the west. On top of this evidence that times have changed for women, she also is the youngest woman in such a position of power.
Most remarkable still is that she is also the first Muslim in such a position in the French parliament. Albeit, a non-practicing Muslim, she stood up for Muslim citizens during the recent burkini controversy. Despite the significant backlash, she spoke out about people’s rights to be free to choose their lifestyle. She does, however, speak out against the forced wearing of burkinis.
Vallaud-Belkacem is also an immigrant. A bone of contention for many extreme right wing politicians and French citizens. She has been the victim of racism and sexism, and malicious rumors. These have increased since the devastating terrorist attacks France experienced in recent times.
When her mother brought their family to France, she was only aged 4
Her father had already been working in construction in the town of Amiens. Subsequently, the young Vallaud Belkacam felt this to be a huge culture shock. Her childhood until then had consisted of a wistful existence tending goats. Born in rural Bni Chiker in northern Morocco, she tended her family’s flocks in the Rif Mountain ranges.
The culture shock associated with immigration was profound for Vallaud-Belkacem. It was this shock and struggle to adapt that led to her interest in politics and human rights. Her proficiency in the French language only became sufficient during her college years.
A staunch feminist, her socialist convictions influenced her studies at the University of Amiens
Eventually, this earned her a scholarship at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. The strict methods with which her parents raised her enabled her to immerse herself in studies. Her father forbade her from boyfriends and having a social life till she was 18. Additionally, she supported herself financially, working two jobs.
It was during her time in University that she met her now husband, Boris Valland. Together they have twins, a boy, and a girl. She claims that she applies her gender neutral philosophy to her parenting. In her role of Education Minister, she has received opposition to her attempts to bring gender neutrality into schools.
It is such resistance that brings to light the nationalistic heart of many French people
Right wing politicians claim that her appointment is merely a provocation and that she hasn’t earned the position. Skeptics allege she is a product of a modern world obsessed with political correctness for the sake of itself.
But Vallaud-Belkacem’s meteoric rise to success despite her humble beginnings bears a testament. She has been the underdog. Additionally, she fought tirelessly for the rights of the downtrodden. A fight made evident when the ex-Socialist President, Francois Hollande, appointed her Minister of Women’s Affairs.
Vallaud-Belkacem lead movements fighting against discrimination, promoting citizen’s rights
She sought to strengthen local democracy and has been a vocal proponent of gay marriage. It was this passion that eventually saw her elected as the socialist party advisor to the Mayor of Lyon.
When asked what she wants for young people, in her role as Minister of Education, she is clear. She believes young people should involve themselves in politics as she did. Her philosophy is that happiness comes from actively playing a part in your future.
Vallaud-Belkacem is a clear testament to young people. Clearly, where you have come from, or who you have been doesn’t matter. Where you are going and what you become is entirely up to you. You can be whatever you choose if you work hard enough and have honest intentions.