Two of France’s former first ladies, Valérie Trierweiler (pictured centre) and Carla Bruni, joined a Paris rally on Tuesday calling for the release of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram last month.
Under a grey Parisian sky with the Eiffel Tower looming behind them, France’s former first ladies joined a demonstration to demand the release of the abducted girls.
Holding a sign that read, “Rendez-nous nos filles! #BringBackOurGirls,” Trierweiler called for increased security for women across the world, particularly in conflict zones.
“We demand the liberation of the young girls, but we also demand protection for all women and young girls,” said Trierweiler. “Schools need to be secured and women need to be protected during conflicts and dangerous periods.”
Bruni, singer, songwriter and wife of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, was also present at the demonstration.
In the run-up to Tuesday’s rally, there were reports that actress Julie Gayet, who recently made headlines for her affair with President Hollande, would also take part in the march. But Gayet was not present at the rally at Trocadéro in the affluent 16th arrondissement (district) of the French capital.
Trierweiler, Bruni and a collection of French celebrities – including film stars, musicians and female politicians – joined the growing global campaign that has rallied around the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to express sympathy and support for the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants on April 14 from the remote northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok.
‘All they want is money’
The Paris demonstration came a day after Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Nigerian militant Islamist group, released a video calling for a release of Boko Haram militants in Nigerian jails in exchange for at least some of the abducted girls.
Most of the celebrities at the Paris demonstration on Tuesday declined to comment on whether the Nigerian government should negotiate with Boko Haram to secure the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls.
But speaking to FRANCE 24 on the sidelines of the demonstration, French supermodel Inès de la Fressange said she did not support a prisoner swap.
“We can’t accept this craziness. Nobody can ensure that this is something serious,” said de la Fressange. “We’re in the 21st century, this is just not possible. This is craziness, nothing else.”
Standing on the staging platform from where tourists snap their quintessential Paris shot of Eiffel Tower, Toulu Akerele did not mince her words when asked her opinion about Shekau’s prisoner exchange offer.
“It’s all bullshit. All they want is money. I don’t think we should be negotiating with terrorists,” said the 23-year-old British-Nigerian student.
While the gathering of about a dozen French celebrities called for the liberation of the schoolgirls and demanded respect for women’s rights, many of the Nigerian diaspora members focused their ire on the Nigerian authorities.
“The problem is not just Boko Haram. The problem of Nigeria is very large,” fumed Dennis Caesar Oduware, a retired librarian. “The government is involved. The government is the mother of Boko Haram.”
While there is no evidence of official state complicity in the militant Islamist threat confronting Africa’s most populous nation, the April 14 mass abductions have highlighted the country’s deep frustrations over the Nigerian authorities’ failure to tackle the problem.
“It’s very sad because the government is not doing anything. Any money that comes from the international community will probably go into corruption,” said Akerele.
“But at least this time the government will have to do something because the fact is, the rest of the world is disgusted and shocked.”
In photos: #BringBackOurGirls rally in Paris
© All photos @ Sarah Le Duc FRANCE 24
Like Michelle Obama in the US, France’s former first lady Valérie Trierweiler has added her voice to calls for the release of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, marching alongside other French celebrities and ordinary citizens at Tuesday’s rally.
“The rights of women must be respected across the world,” says French director Lisa Azuelos, one of the co-organisers of the demonstration. “If this is allowed to happen, it says that a woman is not the equal of a man. That is no longer acceptable.”
Famed French actress Léa Seydoux was also at the Paris rally. “We are doing what we can, in our small way, for these young women who have the right to knowledge, to education,” she said. “It is essential”.
French supermodel Inès de la Fressange (3rd right): “That women can be kidnapped, snatched away from their school and sold, it’s intolerable. We can’t accept this madness.”
“We hope that everything possible is being done to find [the schoolgirls],“ says French politician Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. “Both for their sake and because they have become a symbol of the violence faced by women.”
French actresses Sandrine Kiberlain and Géraldine Nakache. “It would be good if this is not just seen as feminist movement,” says Kiberlain. “Both men and women must show their anger.”
Former French government minister Yamina Benguigui (4th right), who organised the demonstration along with Lisa Azuelos.
“We can’t not act in the face of barbarism,” says director Géraldine Nakache (left).
Toulu Akerele, an Anglo-Nigerian student living in Paris: “I am here because it is my country, and because any pressure is welcome.”
“I’m crying because this is about my children,” says a 64-year-old Nigerian man. “And the Nigerian government, the ruling party, lets it happen.”
Three Congolese women used the rally to also call attention to the violation of women’s rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “The rights of African women are in danger,” they shout.
Date created : 2014-05-13