À l’occasion de la semaine de la presse et des médias à l’École, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem a accordée un entretien écrit, en anglais, aux élèves du Collège Le Bastion de Carcassonne (Aude). Retrouvez ici les questions des élèves et les réponses de la ministre.
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Right now I am the French Minister for Education, Higher Education and Research. I am 38 years old.
What languages do you speak?
I speak French, my mother tongue or native language is a dialect of North Africa, called Berber.
I also speak English and understand a bit of Spanish. I learned German but did not have the chance to practice.
Where do you come from?
I was born in a small village of Morocco, called Beni Chiker, in the Rif region. I arrived in France at the age of 5 and grew up in Amiens, Picardie.
Where do you live?
Right now, for my work as Minister, I live in Paris. But my home is in Villeurbanne, near Lyon.
Is it a strength or a weakness to be a binational woman in France, today?
Being binational is definitely a person’s strength. It is extremely valuable to have the chance of growing between two cultures. Not only does it give you knowledge of the two cultures, but it helps in being open-minded, more adaptable to different situations. Now, we know that discrimination does exist in France. And we are trying to fight it. However, we must all see binationals as people who are making France richer, bigger, and able to reach intellectual, cultural and economic new frontiers.
Have you always wanted to work in politics?
No, before 2002, I had no idea I was going to work in politics. I was interested by politics but without being involved in a political organization, without the project of doing politics or being elected myself.
When did you become the Minister of Education ? How did you make it?
On August 26th 2014 President François Hollande appointed me Minister for Education, Higher Education and Research. How did I make it? It was the decision of President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. However, I imagine that they knew how education and school are important to me. Because I know what I owe to French education and teachers and because I think school is key to building progress in our society and for our youth.
Has your job changed since November 13th (thirteenth)?
I would not say that my job has changed. However, after the killings, we had important tasks to carry on to help teachers and to help protect our schools. Tasks we were not used to. We had to provide teachers with documents and materials to help them talk to their pupils.
We had to work with Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in order to secure schools and provide security exercises.
Is it hard to be young and at the head of the French education system? And do you think it is harder or easier because you are a woman?
No, this work is difficult -whatever your age, sex or position- whenever you try to change how our education system work. It would be much easier to do nothing. In the past, a few ministers spent years rue de Grenelle without changing anything. This was surely because it was, then, without risk and much more comfortable.
You have also been the minister for women’s right since 2012, could you explain us your role and what you have done to improve the rights of women?
As a minister for Women’s Rights, my role was to drive progress for women’s rights especially in 2 main areas, regarding equality in the workplace and violence against women. To do so, we had to take direct decisions. For example, in 2013, it was the first time ever that a company was fined for breaking the equality in the workplace law! And my work was to change the law, to improve it. That’s what we did with the Parliament. The law brought new tools to help improve equality in the work place. One of these tools is a new form of parental leave, in order to have more fathers taking care of their child. Another tool of this law is the public guarantee for unpaid alimony. In more than 40% of the cases, divorced women do not receive the father’s alimony they are entitled to to help take care of their children. The public guarantee for unpaid alimony is now used to help mothers get the money they need. The State can then ask the parent, the father in most cases to pay back the money.
Another important part of the law is related to reducing harassment and violence against women. The law extends the protection ordinance, in order to help women faster and for a longer period of time. The protection ordinance is taken by a judge to ask a violent parent to leave home and to avoid any contact before a formal judgment is taken. The law also gives the priority to ousting the violent parent from the home. Before the law, many women were too afraid of asking help or complain to the police, because they feared of being ousted from their home. Regarding violence, I also fought for a law for the abolition of prostitution so that clients take a part of responsibility- because thousands of women are trapped into this form of violence and need our help so that they can actively get out of the violence trap.
The law also makes gender equality an obligation for political parties. It also gives more power to the “Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel” to ensure stereotypes against women do not continue to be aired on television.
Has any woman inspired you in who you are? If so, who and why?
Many women inspired me. However I admire and respect a lot the figure of Marie Curie. Marie Curie was born in Poland, her name Maria Salomea Skłodowska. She arrived in Paris at the age of 24. However, thanks to her hard work and talent, Marie Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics at a time when there were very few scientists and women didn’t have access to education. She is the best example of what can be achieved thanks to the French Republic, to University and the knowledge acquire there.
We will now ask you questions we’ve been asking every woman interviewed.
What did you collect when you were young?
I did not have a real collection but collected and shared books. You are never alone with a book in your hand and there so many things you can share with others thanks to literature.
What did you want to do for a living as a child?
When I was a child, I did not have a precise professional goal. At some point, I thought I could become a journalist or a lawyer.
If you had a macrophone, what would you advise our generation?
I would tell your generation “Yes you can”. You can make your dream come true. You can also support the community and you’ll see that for both the community and yourself, your engagement is extremely rewarding.
Could you give us one thing that is different between your life and your parents’ ?
My parents were raised at a time and in a place where access to knowledge was difficult and distant.
What does Europe mean to you ?
Strategically, culturally and economically speaking, Europe is our future. Our first ticket for a journey towards a peaceful future that is rich of culture and progress.
Where have you travelled in Europe?
I visited Germany, Italy, Greece, Sweden and Great-Britain. Now, here are a last couple of questions we wanted to ask you:
What is the most important thing in the world for you?
Dignity of human being.
Which women have made the most tremendous changes in women’s rights according to you ? In France, in Europe, and in the World ?
It would be really unfair to name only one woman, in what has been and is still a collective fight. As an example, Simone Veil has helped women to get more control over their own body. But this would have never happened without the fight of thousands courageous women and men, without the “Manifeste des 343” etc… Today’s progress would not happen without the work of researchers and scientists like Françoise Héritier or Simone de Beauvoir in the last century. The knowledge, the awareness they have inspired also helped women and women’s right a lot.