Meet the French women who fight violence against women: Sarah McGrath

interview conducted by Raphaëlle Jouannic, 3rd generation WAVE Youth Ambassador (2022-2024) from France

Sarah McGrath is an Australian immigrant based in Paris and CEO of Women for Women France, An NGO that supports non-French and/or immigrant victims of violence in France. WFWF just launched a world first multilingual Online Resource Centre for all victim-survivors in France.

Women for Women France is a member of WAVE Network.

Why is it useful to be part of a European network (WAVE Network) and what do you expect from the European civil society and its institutions?

Having the WAVE Network is vital to share learnings on promising practices from all the countries within Europe. Being able to share what works and doesn’t work, what challenges we’re having, this has been invaluable in informing our work.

What do you think about the current European policies on violence against women and girls?
The Istanbul Convention is a vital tool. France is unfortunately not fully complying with all provisions in the treaty, particularly regarding the needs of migrant women. 

Are positive actions being carried out in France?
There is good news: since 2021, the concept of forced suicide in the context of domestic abuse has entered into the French penal code. France is the first European country to have done so. There is very good news on the civil society side of things too with a strong mobilization and unity within French feminist networks and organizations working to combat gender-based violence. Also, on the political side, we have a new Minister for Gender Equality who has expressed a desire to explore the concept of coercive control and to bring it into French legislation.

Have you noticed any changes in the awareness of the French State and civil society on violence against women?

Thanks to the coordination of civil society and some ministers, the landscape has changed dramatically in five years. Working in our sector can be very demoralizing and very difficult, but when you see that there is such a change and when I see my friends around me starting to talk about domestic violence in a much more informed way with the level of understanding of those who have no education or training in this area, I say to myself “hey, we are getting somewhere!”

Could you give any example of a change of mentality in society?

The shape of the world when I started working was radically different. I was working in a male-dominated sectors. Things that could be said to me in the workplace back then could not happen today. There was pressure to behave like men to fit in, I had even developed a similar leadership style, taking inspiration from male leaders. I think we’ve woken up now and we now know thanks to the research that women are actually stronger leaders and have happier, healthier and more effective teams… and even better bottom lines!

When we talk about violence against women and girls, we mainly talk about the horrific figures, the inaction of States, the ignorance of the populations on these subjects, but there are actions that are taken.

I think we need to acknowledge the progress that has been made. Just because we celebrate all the progress that has been made does not mean we accept the state of affairs. We know what can be done, because we have done it and we will continue to do it. We all have the feminists who came before us to thank, but we need to continue to work tirelessly for future generations of women. There is a kind of multi-generational sisterhood.

What does a world without violence against women look like to you?

This is a great question! When we talk about violence against women and girls, and especially when it comes to femicide in the context of domestic violence, the danger comes from the fact that the abuser feels he is losing control or dominance. A world without violence would therefore be without this trigger for violence, without the man’s need to control or dominate a woman. It may sound cliché, but in that case, we would be free to walk around wherever we want, at any time of the day or night, and more importantly we would feel safe in our own homes: which today is that most unsafe place for a woman. 

Why is femicide important to define?
If we compare femicide to murder, the word femicide highlights the systemic nature of this type of murder. This is simple but that’s why it is vital.
If you had one thing to say to the professionals, activists, those who fight against violence against women who read this interview, what would you say?
I’d say thank you so much for your work, and let’s keep going!