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Who exactly is France's most admired woman?
Simone Veil has been voted as France's most admired woman. Photo: AFP

Who exactly is France's most admired woman?

Oliver Gee · 3 Feb 2015, 11:56

Published: 03 Feb 2015 11:56 GMT+01:00

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An international survey by UK pollsters YouGov revealed on Tuesday that Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie were the most admired people in the world.
But not for the French. 
The French public voted instead for the Dalai Lama and Simone Veil (see full poll below), ahead of the likes of Taliban survivor Malala Yousafzai, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, actress Julia Roberts and National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
But for many outside of France, or indeed for those new to France, Simone Veil might seem like an odd name out among world leaders and the rich and famous.
So why do the French admire this 87-year-old woman?

Photo: AFP
Quite simply because Simone Veil has likely done more for women's rights than any other person in French history. 
She is best known for leading the successful campaign to legalize abortion in France. This was back in 1975, when she was France's minister of health (incidentally, she was France's first ever female minister too). 
But it was no easy task. She faced extremely tough adversity during the campaign, which saw opponents sending threats, painting swastikas on her car and on her home, and comparing abortion to the genocide of the Holocaust. 
Those comments would have been particularly painful for Veil, who was deported from France in her teens to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  
She was at Auschwitz and later Bergen-Belsen with her mother and sisters, but her mother didn't survive. Veil has said that when times were at their toughest later in life, she drew strength from the memory of her mother.
But Veil returned to France strong. She earned a degree in law, but then dropped her law career to work as a politician, where she excelled when it came to fighting for women's rights.
And her work didn't end with the success of her abortion law, which is known as IGV in France (l'interruption volontaire de grossesse). The law change came hot on the heels of her battle to make contraception more accessible for young women in France. 

Photo: Claude Truong Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons
Story continues below…
Veil later became the first female president of the European Parliament, where she served for three years, before returning to work for the French government again.
Veil's 70 years of work has been recognized far and wide, and she has been been recognized with an honorary damehood from the British government, and in France she was awarded the Grand Cross of the Légion D'Honneur, among many, many other awards.
She was married to her husband Antoine, who was also a politician, for 66 years, until he died in 2013. She has three children.
And still in 2015 she remains loved by the French, who voted her in as the most admired woman on the planet.
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