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Cameroon women's activist wins first Simone Veil Prize

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Paris (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday gave the first Simone Veil Prize to Aissa Doumara Ngatansou of Cameroon, where she runs an association to help victims of rape and forced marriages.

Speaking in front of a large portrait of Veil, the late Auschwitz survivor renowned for her battle to have abortion made legal in France while health minister in 1975, Doumara said she accepted the award with "a lot of emotion".

The ceremony marked the 42nd International Women's Day and the award was created in tribute to the life and work of Veil who died in 2017, aged 89, and became just the fifth woman to be laid to rest in the Pantheon in Paris, with her husband.

The prize is worth 100,000 euros ($112,000).

Doumara dedicated her award to "all women victims of violence and forced marriages, to all those who have escaped from Boko Haram," the armed Islamist movement active in northeast Nigeria and across neighbouring borders.

Macron hailed Doumara for "her commitment of over 20 years in the service of women, carried out in silence, sometimes in disapproval."

"You were outraged and you didn't give way... This is an example of courage, of challenging the weight of legacies," he added.

Macron also said that France will give 120 million euros to a fund to support "the fight against violence and discrimination inflicted on women" around the world.

He said he wanted 2019 to be "a useful year for women's rights" while France holds the rotating presidency of the G7 group of industrialised powers.

Measures will be taken to educate young girls, particularly in the Sahel region, with the setting up of a bank to support women's enterprise in Africa. Paris also proposed to host a global women's conference next year, 25 years after the last such gathering in Beijing.

"Many women are in the front line of this fight but the whole of society should mobilise, including men," Macron said as he handed over the prize.

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