Najat Vallaud-Belkacem: The One Who Persevered
By: Nana Osei/Arab America Contributing Editor
Who is Najat Vallaud-Belkacem? She became the first woman to gain the title Minister of National Education and Research of France. Before that, she was the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, and even started off as a government spokesperson.
However, the road to her success and prestige was not an easy one. She had to endure economic struggle, racism, and more to become who she is today. This is her story.
Where it all began
Najat was born on October 4th, 1977. Her place of origin is a village called Bni Chicker which is located in the Morrocan countryside by Nador of the Rif Region. She lived in a battered, isolated farmhouse that was shared between her grandparents, mother, and siblings. Her father had immigrated to a French town called Abbeville in order to find work in construction so that he could support his family. She was the second child out of seven, but as we know that didn’t stop her from standing out.
As a child, she worked as a shepherd girl and even traveled long distances to bring water from the well for her family. The life of a shepherd is extremely hard work. They must watch over their flock 24/7 and protect them from predators. For a child, this is an enormous responsibility but Najat could take on anything she put her mind to even so young. Her family was extremely poor and as such, she had to do whatever she could to support them from an early age.
At the age of five in 1982, she left her small village in Morroco forever. Her father had found a job at a French Car Manufacturer. He now wanted his wife and children to join him, so they immigrated to the suburbs of Amiens. The journey from Morroco to France was an extensive and difficult one. However, situating to a whole new country away from everything is even harder.
New Life in France
Najat has said, “The fact of leaving one’s country, one’s family, one’s root can be painful. My father had already found his place, but for us, for my mother, it was very difficult to get our bearings.” She was in a new environment with a culture, hierarchy, and even language that she did not understand. Najat was also surprised by how advanced the technology in France was compared to her barren countryside. Cars and telephones were all things that she had never seen, especially in such abundance.
However, while most would have been overwhelmed to the point of giving up, Najat chose to persevere. In her first year in France, she studied and practiced diligently until she was fluent in French. Sadly, even after learning the language of France throughout her young adulthood Najat had to endure racism and discrimination for simply being an immigrant with a monumental goal. However, this experience did not bring her down but pushed her even harder to become an advocate for minorities and social change.
While other people were living out their youth, Najat still continued to study. She even worked two jobs so that she could keep her parents from financial strain. Najat was very assiduous in her furthering her education. A fellow teacher even told her that she wouldn’t make it into a university. Her hard work paid off though as she graduated from the Paris Institute of Political Studies in 2002 at the age of 25 with a master’s in public administration.
The Political Journey Upward
After finishing University, she soon joined the Socialist Party to start her dream of making social change. During her time there, Najat fought for democracy, economic development, and minority rights.
In 2004 the Regional Council of Rhone-Alpes elected her as a councilwoman. She was moving up the political ladder fast and wasn’t planning on stopping. In 2007, she earned herself the job of spokeswomen for Ségolène Royal. Ségolène Royal was actually the first woman in France to be nominated as a presidential candidate which made her an amazing political connection.
In 2012, she became a Minister of Women’s Affairs. Interestingly, she was Starting her career as a Minister wasn’t easy at first for Najat. She had to endure both sexist and racist comments by other politicians. “I was called names and accused of trying to Islamise France,” she says. She still didn’t stop fighting for social justice and in 2012, she became the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports and Minister of City Affairs. No woman of France had done this before her and at such a considerably young age too.
Currently, Najat is taking a break from political life. She is working for political research and polling firm called Ispos. She’s even the CEO of the Global Affairs Commission.
The story of Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is one of empowerment and inspiration. If you’re looking to follow the steps of Najat, then, listen to her words for you, “I have always advised the youths to get involved in politics. The best way to be happy with your future is by playing a part in it. If you’re just a spectator of collective fate, you’re bound to feel frustrated.”