CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1This work for non-specialists brings together studies from different disciplines on violence against women. The introduction reviews the different types of violence, a number of related concepts, and the issues and institutions involved in reducing it. Its approach to gender is constructivist: violence is first and foremost understood as a relation of domination.

2The originality of the work lies in the number and diversity of its research studies, and the two chapters by Jean Foucart reviewing the literature on violence and prostitution. It does document different types of violence against women and should therefore be of interest to researchers working on these issues. However, the topics are wide-ranging and do not refer to any explicitly formulated research problem or project, and inter-chapter consistency is weak since the book encompasses the perspectives of so many disciplines. The connection between violence against women and the facts studied is not always clearly explained or problematized. And the introduction, though it works to develop a broad definition of violence against women in all its varieties, offers no theoretical framework when in fact much of a theoretical cast has been published in the last decades. Had the work adopted a theoretical perspective, the empirical studies could have been fit into an analytic framework that would have given them more depth. Likewise, recent references on how to measure and quantify violence would have considerably improved the book. [1]

3Its contribution consists above all in the seven chapters presenting new qualitative and quantitative data. Two are by volume editor Anne-Françoise Déquiré and further develop her earlier research on forced marriages and homeless women. The first is based on ten interviews with adult daughters of North Africans, aged 20-35, living in France. In the system she describes, women are not at all free to choose; their marriage is a family affair with strong implications for parents’ and siblings’ reputation. However, the contextual information is relatively old; more recent data is available. Déquiré’s second chapter is based on 19 interviews with women “living rough” and 9 with aid professionals and volunteer workers. Two-thirds of the women questioned were living in shelters, most dual-sex, where they did not feel safe with male residents. Moreover, according to the author, the job activities such women are offered reproduce gender stereotypes by giving priority to women’s potential status as mothers: jobs are seldom available for women over 50 and what jobs there are seldom reinforce self-esteem. Women on the street use three strategies to protect themselves from the symbolic violence of being looked at by passers-by and the physical and above all sexual violence of homeless men: “invisibility through cleanliness,” masculinization, and not washing to discourage sexual aggression. It should be noted that there are important recent studies on these questions that might have been included in the bibliography. [2]

4Another two of the seven chapters are by Richard Matis, a gynaecologist-obstetrician and vice-chair of Gynécologie Sans Frontières (Gynaecologists without borders). The first analyses a victim study conducted in maternity hospitals in 2010-2011. Overall, the survey findings are consistent with those from the 2003 French national survey [3] cited as a reference, though contrary to that survey, violence types were explicitly indicated in the questionnaire. In what is in fact an extension of the Henrion report of 2001, [4] Matis offers recommendations for better informing professionals and raising awareness among gynaecologists and maternity clinic staff about violence against women. The chapter on female genital mutilations is particularly precise and well documented, offering what the author terms a “medical approach” to the problem. After an exhaustive description of female genital mutilations and their medical and psychological effects, the author analyses professional practices, primarily those of midwives and gynaecologists. He then makes his recommendations, the first of which is the importance of diagnosis, which gynaecologists rarely perform, indicating the precautions to be taken in questioning victims, as some women are not aware they have been mutilated. The practices he recommends mainly aim to protect patients psychologically. For example, he suggests avoiding episiotomies and C-sections as they may be experienced as new mutilations.

5The sociologist Emmanuel Jovelin of the Catholic University of Lille also wrote two chapters. The first, on motivations for wearing the Islamic headscarf in France, is based on 12 interviews. The author’s hypothesis, drawn from a work by Françoise Gaspard and Farhad Khosrokhavar published in 1995, is that young women do not all have the same reasons for wearing the headscarf. Almost all the women questioned have a higher education degree and grew up in families that were not particularly observant if at all. They say that wearing the headscarf was a personal choice, made in some cases against their family’s will, one that elicited hostile reactions. As they see it, the violence against them consists in rejection by family and friends and social stigmatisation. In his second chapter, Jovelin presents prostitution as a phenomenon that cannot be detached from a system of gender domination. His action research with the Mouvement du Nid prostitute advocate association positions him clearly in the abolitionist camp. In this chapter he juxtaposes – rather than clearly explaining the connections between – three different studies: an opinion poll on prostitution and prostitution customers conducted in France; a questionnaire and interview survey of customers in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and a comparison of the findings with those from similar surveys in Canada. One reason that customers gave for having relations with prostitutes was lack of the financial resources needed to have a regular partner. Clearly, money plays an important role in sexual relations. Moreover, some respondents reported that it is out of respect for non-prostitute women that they engage in certain sexual practices with prostitutes only.

6Audrey Heine and Laurent Licata of the psychology department of the Free University of Brussels used questionnaire responses by daughters of Moroccan parents born or living in France or Belgium to study feelings of identity among women of North African background. Citing the writings of Abdelmalek Sayad, the authors conclude that their young women respondents (40% were still students) are caught in a tug of war that they experience as symbolic violence; i.e., tension between family pressure to safeguard the traditions of the country of origin and the understanding that the reality their parents have transmitted to them is out of date and out of kilter with their own experience. Respondents reported discovering this primarily on visits to Morocco, a country their parents idealized to them but where they do not feel welcome. These women are therefore made vulnerable by contradictory identity signposts and being assigned to an impossible family role. However, the authors do not clearly explain in what way violence is operative in that experience, a connection suggested only by the book’s overarching theme. References to studies by Stephanie Condon and Christelle Hamel, [5] for example, would have enabled them to correct this flaw.

7The chapter by the historian Hédi Saïdi on post-revolutionary Tunisia is the most atypical in both form and content. Tunisia has long been proud of its status as the most egalitarian country in the region, but that position declined spectacularly after the Arab Spring revolution, despite the fact that women were instrumental in bringing the revolution about. In 2007, the legal marrying age of 18 was extended to women. But several clauses in the personal status code of 1956 are inegalitarian and, in practice, institutions seems relatively tolerant of male violence toward women. The chapter draws on extremely composite material, including personal accounts and press articles as well as jurisprudence.

8Ultimately, despite the heterogeneity of the individual contributions, the work stresses the many facets of violence against women. It takes account of victims’ experience and (in the case of prostitutes’ customers) perpetrators’ motivations, and offers concrete, practical recommendations for improving the way professionals and institutions respond to and treat victims.


  • [1]
    For example, the “violence against women” issue of Nouvelles questions féministes, 2013(1).
  • [2]
    See, for example, C. Brousse, J-M. Firdion, M. Marpsat, 2008, Les sans-domicile [The homeless], Paris, La Découverte, 118 p., and the 2012 INED-INSEE survey of homeless persons, containing reliable estimates of the number of women concerned – far higher than those given in the chapter.
  • [3]
    M. Jaspard et al., 2003, Les violences envers les femmes en France: Une enquête nationale [Violence against women in France: a national survey], Paris, La Documentation française, 197 p.
  • [4]
    R. Henrion, 2001, Les femmes victimes de violences conjugales, le rôle des professionnels de santé [Women victims of intimate partner violence: the role of health professionals], Paris, La Documentation française.
  • [5]
    S. Condon and C. Hamel, “Contrôle social et violences subies parmi les descendants d’immigrés maghrébins” [Social control and violence sustained by descendants of North African immigrants], N. Chetcuti and M. Jaspard, 2007, Violences envers les femmes: Trois pas en avant, deux pas en arrière [Violence against women: three steps forward, two steps back], Paris, L’Harmattan, 319 p.
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