Gisèle Halimi – Portrait

Gisèle Halimi during “Choisir” meeting, at the Mutualité in Paris, in 1972. (Photo Horace. Saif images)

Gisèle Halimi, (1927-2020). She was an influential French lawyer, woman politician, author and a feminist activist who dedicated her life to the “Cause des Femmes” (The cause of women).

She was born as Zeiza Gisèle Élise Taïeb on July 27 in Tunisia in 1927 to a poor conservative Jewish family at the time when the birth of girls was considered bad luck. Her father, Edouard Taïeb, was a legal clerk; her mother, Fortunée (Metoudi) Taïeb, who was known as Fritna, was a homemaker. The household was traditional and male-dominated.

Committed since her earliest childhood, Gisèle Halimi frees herself from family, religious and patriarchal authority. “Injustice is physically intolerable” to her.
She revolted against the obligation to do household chores which her brother was exempt from, then at the age of 10 she went on a hunger strike to fight for more equal conditions within her family. She was excelling in school and it was obvious for her to become a lawyer as a teenager. She went to Paris to earn her law degree and study philosophy at the Sorbonne University.

During her legal career, Gisèle Halimi will champion causes close to her heart. She will campaign throughout her career in favor of Tunisian and Algerian separatists like the famous trial for Djamila Boupacha or either women whom she will defend until her last breath.
She is the first lawyer to sign in 1971 the “Manifesto of the 343” written by Simone de Beauvoir (author and philosopher). It was a French petition signed by 343 women “who had the courage to say, ‘I‘ve had an abortion‘”. It was an act of civil disobedience, since abortion was illegal in France and, by admitting publicly to having aborted, they exposed themselves to criminal prosecution.
The purpose of the manifesto was to demand free access to contraception and to call for the legalization of abortion.

In 1971, alongside Simone de Beauvoir, she co-founded the association “Choisir la cause des femmes”, a women’s rights organization. The objective of the association was to defend the signatories of the manifesto of 343 who could be indicted.
In her career she has defended many trials which have become historic in France, including the Bobigny trial in 1972 of Marie-Claire Chevalier. Five women were tried there: a young underage woman who had aborted after rape and four adult women, including her mother, for complicity in or performing an abortion because it was illegal at the time (except in cases in which the life of the mother was in danger). The young woman, Marie-Claire Chevalier, was found innocent of committing a crime, and the trial helped shift the country’s abortion laws toward eventual decriminalization.

On November 22, 1972, at the end of the Bobigny trial where she obtained the release of the young Marie-Claire Chevalier. (Keystone photo)

Another famous trial which contributed to recognize rape as a crime was the Aix-en-Provence trial in 1978. Gisèle Halimi defends Anne T tab and Araceli Castellano, two young Belgian tourists, homosexuals, raped by three men near Marseille, in 1974. The lawyer took the voice of women before the courts, at a time when French law did not recognize rape as a crime. The resounding Aix- en-Provence trial in 1978 helped change mentalities. She fought to have rape recognized as a crime.
She also wrote/contributed to about two dozen books, mostly concerning causes she was most passionate about, like feminism (“La cause des Femmes”, “Ne vous resignez jamais”) and so many more.
Throughout her career, Gisèle Halimi was the spokesperson for women before the courts. Ms. Halimi had a reputation for being combative in her convictions. She spent her life fighting for women’s rights.

« Et je dis aux Femmes trois choses, votre indépendance économique est la clé de votre libération, ne laissez rien passer dans les gestes, le langage, les situations qui attentent à votre dignité, ne vous résignez jamais. » Gisèle Halimi

« And I say to Women three things: your economic independence is the key to your liberation, do not let anything go in the gestures, the language, the situations which await your dignity, never resign yourself.” Gisèle Halimi

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