When 90% of Icelandic women went on strike for women’s rights in 1975, they paved the way for the world’s first democratically elected female head of state, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. Forty years later, you could argue that women now have more opportunity to be at the forefront of political power today. Even though the list of female political leaders is still short, they have made a huge contribution to feminism. Angela Merkel, Dalia Grybauskaite, Nicola Sturgeon, Hillary Clinton are among them.
Although the female candidate in the US presidential race lost and, as a result, the beginning of 2017 was marked by the revival of patriarchal and sexist ideas by president Donald Trump, powerful political positions may still be won by women this year. But a win by certain female presidential candidate would be a disastrous loss for feminism and women’s rights.
The French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of National Front is leading the most recent polls, which suggest she will win the first round of elections. This would be the biggest success in the history of the far-right party. In her presidential campaign, Le Pen bravely claims to be an advocate of women’s rights.
Although Le Pen declared Trump’s win “a sign of hope”, she regularly emphasises in her campaign “Au nom du peuple” (In the name of the people) that she is a candidate for women and mothers. She recently even cited Simone de Beauvoir and said she is close to the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter.
She even appeared to stand up to patriarchal religious norms, which feminists like myself strongly oppose, when she reportedly refused to wear a headscarf in Lebanon to meet the Grand Mufti, which led to her meeting being cancelled. It appeared to be a bold feminist move, especially after the recent outrage of Iranian and European feminists after Swedish female politicians wore headscarves during their visit in Iran.
Are we really witnessing the transformation of the xenophobic and sexist National Front into a party for democracy and women rights? Did Marine Le Pen truly discover her feminist side? No. Marine Le Pen is neither for democracy, nor feminist. If she has indeed discovered feminism, then it is only as a political tool to reinforce her discriminatory and xenophobic messages.
Le Pen’s first public declaration of her commitment to defend women’s rights took place after the mass sexual assault of women on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, which was initially blamed on migrants. She spoke up in support of victims of the assault, but also denounced the shameful silence of “the regressive left” as they feared to speak out given that migrants were assumed to be involved in the attacks.
“I am revolted today by the unacceptable silence and therefore tacit consent of the French Left in the face of these fundamental attacks on the rights of women,” Le Pen said. “I am scared that the migrant crisis signals the beginning of the end of women’s rights,” she added, revealing her real political intentions.
Indeed, Le Pen disguises her xenophobia as a fake advocacy for women’s rights. Using the general political climate in Europe – and especially in France, where Islamic extremism has loudly and brutally manifested itself through terrorist attacks and social conflicts – Le Pen claims French women’s rights are threatened by migrants, whom she considers to be radical Islamists.
Her “bold” refusal to wear a headscarf in Lebanon was yet another manipulation. Although women are not obliged to wear a headscarf in public spaces in Lebanon, Le Pen knew she would be asked to cover her hair at a meeting with the Grand Mufti. Her refusal to do so appears was masterminded by her campaign as a revolutionary act.
I support any woman who refuses to obey sexist religious norms that consider parts of women’s bodies obscene – but one must recognise that Le Pen’s acts were not feminist, but anti-Muslim. If Le Pen had been asked to follow a similar sexist religious norm to meet the Pope or an influential Catholic leader, maybe she would not have demonstrated her “feminism” in the same way.
In her speech defending women’s rights, Marine Le Pen preaches anti-migrant, anti-Muslim and xenophobic sentiments, claiming she is the one to protect French women from an Islamist onslaught. But Le Pen threatens women’s rights to the same extent as Islamists do.
The two far-right movements, Islamism and nationalism, have more similarities than differences. Both are based on division and hatred, both claim to build a new world, but want to build it on old-fashioned discrimination. Interestingly, both also attempt to hijack feminism and use it as their political tool to manipulate western liberal societies, Islamists with their notion of Muslim feminism and now Le Pen with her “feminist front”.
Le Pen is an anti-woman candidate as her political agenda is built on sexist, discriminatory policies which threaten abortion rights and funding for family planning centers.
By publicly opposing toxic radical Islamism and horrifying attacks on women’s rights, Le Pen confirms she is populist – playing on the fears of many people living in Europe today. She is missing an important element of being a true feminist, however. Feminism and women’s emancipation are principles built on democracy and equality – and humanism is the foundation. None of ideas are supported by the fascist Le Pen.
As a refugee and as a feminist – and someone who belongs to the feminist group Femen whom Le Pen named “obscene harpies” – I believe the female candidate of the 2017 French presidential election is a threat to women’s rights and feminism around the world.