France has made the fight against domestic violence a priority but activists say the state has overlooked undocumented migrant women who are victims of domestic violence. Although laws have been enacted in recent years, they have failed to protect women deprived of gender and residency rights, they argue.
Since he was elected into office in 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron has made the fight against domestic violence, within the broader context of gender equality, one of the main issues of his five-year term. In a speech on November 25, 2017, marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Macron noted that, “France should no longer be one of those countries where women live in fear."
while the French government has unveiled major initiatives in the
campaign to fight violence against women, undocumented foreign women
in France have been woefully overlooked, said Violaine Husson, head
of gender protection issues at the French NGO Cimade in an
interview with InfoMigrants.
September 2019, France launched a major consultation on tackling
violence against women, called the National Forum Against Domestic
Violence. But activists and migrant rights groups say the issue of
violence against illegal or undocumented migrant women was simply not
addressed. What’s more, representatives of organisations working
on migrant rights say the then French minister for gender equality, Marlène Schiappa, failed to engage with them.
women who are victims of domestic violence suffer double
discrimination", said Lola Chevallier, coordinator of the
women's commission at the Paris-based NGO Fasti. "In reality,
the law is not made to protect all women. The rights of foreign women
are governed by the code of foreigners: therefore they do not have
access to the same level of protection according to their nationality
and administrative situation. They are caught in a vice between the
issue of women's rights and that of the right to residency,"
explained Chevallier to InfoMigrants.
the fight against domestic violence, things have changed a little,
even if we are still far from the goal of ending violence against
women. But foreign women who are victims of domestic violence are the
victims of everything," said French Communist Party MP Laurence
Cohen. "They are even more invisible than the others".
Challenges reporting and proving abuse
have been some measures to address the problem although activists say
they are insufficient and difficult to implement. "For the
victims, it's a fighter's journey," said Chevallier. Since 2016,
an undocumented woman who is a victim of domestic violence can
automatically receive a French residence permit or a renewal of the
permit. But in practice, there are several obstacles: foreign women
married to a non-French man or the wife of a statutory refugee are
excluded from the law. "In practice, therefore, this law
concerns very few people," explained Husson of Cimade.
as in every case of this type, the victim must prove spousal abuse
with photographs of her injuries, neighborhood certificates, medical
and/or psychological certificates, police complaints and other
documentation. However, undocumented women, for fear of being sent
back to their countries of origin, are most often too afraid to go to
police stations. Even when they do, their testimonies are often
classified as initial police statements rather than formal
complaints, according to activists.
issue of one person’s word against the other is a common
he-said-she-said challenge in violence against women cases. But it
gets worse for undocumented migrant women. "Violent spouses who
are legally resident on French territory often portray their wives as
women interested in their administrative status," said Husson.
"In such cases, the police prefecture does not carry out an
investigation and will accept the man's version,” she explained.
State suspicions of ‘women claiming to be victims’
law allows victims of domestic violence to obtain a residence permit
and thus break free from the hold of a violent partner. If a woman
gets a protection order, she can obtain a residence permit under the
law. But "many judges refuse to issue this order because they
consider the evidence provided is insufficient," observed
Husson. And even when foreign women manage to obtain protection
orders, police prefectures often refuse to accept residence permit
applications, added Chevallier.
to Cimade, in 2019, only 75 residence permits were issued to women
with protection orders. The total number of protection orders issued
for French and non-French women for the period was 2,500.
Cohen believes there’s a clear lack of political will. "The
amendments made by my group in the Senate are still being retooled
and we’re facing blocks at all levels," she said.
problem is that the authorities are suspicious of illegal foreigners
and consider them fraudulent. For the state, women claim to be
victims in order to obtain papers," said Chevallier, who is
demanding "the same rights for all, without distinction of
nationality and administrative status”.
Risks of exploitation or suicide
The rules may change depending on the nationality of women. The right of residence for Algerian women for instance is governed by the Franco-Algerian agreement, which was last modified in 2001 – before the new violence against women laws were passed. “Clearly, Algerian women are not entitled to anything," noted Husson.
undocumented victims of violence have great difficulty having their
rights recognized, some practices have changed. Before a 2011
condemnation of France by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR),
undocumented women victims of domestic violence were sometimes placed
in detention and sent back to their countries of origin after filing
a complaint, according to NGOs. "Prefectures maintained that it
was for the good of these women because they were separated from a
violent spouse," explained Husson. But for some of these women,
returning home can mean repudiation by the family or even homicide.
For those who stay in France and manage to escape their spouse, the risks are also significant and can include exploitation, psychological distress, returning to the streets and suicide. "Some even expose themselves to prison because they are defending themselves," warned Husson, who wonders: "Do we have to wait until a homicide is committed before the government reacts?"
Click here for a practical guide for foreign victims domestic violence by the French Human Rights League (LDH)