Merci, Simone

Today’s post comes from ACCENT Paris Programs Coordinator Audrey Casabielhe, who, after an eventful experience in a popular Parisian neighborhood, discusses the legacy of French politician Simone Veil.

On a slightly grey but warm day, my partner and I were strolling through one of the many tiny villages of Paris called La Butte aux Cailles. The Butte aux Cailles is a very lively and trendy little neighborhood that is known for its small and charming houses, popular bars and restaurants, cobbled streets, and fantastic street art.  That afternoon, while walking down the street, we saw two young women putting artistic posters up. Suddenly, a woman in her forties opened her window across the street and shouted to the two women. I was worried that a shouting match would start. To my surprise, though, the following scene unfolded before my eyes.

“Excuse me!”
The young women turned, around visibly worried and annoyed. “Yes?”
“Do you have any posters left?”
“No… it was our last one, why?”
“Ah, that’s too bad, I would have loved for you to put one up on our building.”

I was very surprised. I expected a shouting match to erupt, but instead a pleasant conversation took place! What was on this poster that made these women from different backgrounds break into a vibrant discussion?  I looked at the poster already glued to the wall and a feeling of pride ran through me; it was an artistic drawing of Simone Veil, one of the most influential politicians in France for women’s rights. Simone Veil changed the French political landscape forever.

Simone was a female politician that started her career in the early sixties, when married women still didn’t have the right to choose whatever profession they wanted without asking for their husbands’ permission. In 1974, she became Minister of Health and is the reason France legalized abortion in 1975. She was also a survivor of the Nazi deportation during the 2nd World War and bore the marks of this traumatic experience her entire life. She never ceased to fight for those without a voice.

She is known for the Veil Law (Loi Veil) that legalized abortion in France, and from 1946 to 1974 she held various positions through which she was able to further women’s rights, such as improving the way female prisoners were treated, enabling imprisoned Algerian women to pursue an education, enacting dual parental control of family legal matters, pursuing adoption rights for women, and the introduction of maternity benefits.

And on July 1st of this year, Simone Veil became the 5th woman to be buried in the Pantheon.

As a French woman, I had almost forgotten how strong of a model Simone Veil can be. I am not the type to put up artistic posters on the wall to commemorate people, but in a sense, sharing with you Simone Veil’s accomplishments and all the admiration I have for her is my own way of saying:  “Merci, Simone.”~Audrey Casabielhe, ACCENT Paris

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