Five great French women from history you need to know about

To mark International Women's Day here are five leading female figures from French history who don't get the recognition they deserve, according to feminist group Osez le Feminisme.

Five great French women from history you need to know about
Photo: Comité Memoire Esclavage


An anthropologist, World War II resistance fighter, and holocaust survivor. Tillion became a commandant in the Resistance army in Paris in 1940, before being sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin in 1943. She performed a musical play for her fellow prisoners, and even conducted anthropological studies of the camp inmates. She escaped in 1945, and after a life of activism against torture, and for women’s rights, died in 2008 at the age of 100.


A mytholigised figure, “Guadeloupe Solitude” was a freed slave on the island of Guadeloupe. Born in 1772 after her mother was raped by a French colonialist, Solitude was freed by the abolition of slavery. In 1802, however, Napoleon reinstated slavery in the French colonies. Solitude took up arms, was captured, and given the bittersweet privilege of having her execution delayed because she was pregnant. She was hanged exactly one day after giving birth.


Born in 1830, the “Red Virgin of Montmartre” was an anarchist activist and schoolteacher who took part in the Paris Commune in 1871, and spent much of her life in and out of prison for her acts of libertarian revolution. When deported to New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean, she refused privileges reserved for women, and at other times in her life wore men’s clothing. She died in 1905, and a Paris metro stop on Line 3, near Levallois, is named in her honour.


A prominent playwright and political activist in 18th century France. Dismayed by the gender inequality of the French Revolution, she wrote the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen.” The title was a scathing reference to the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” a 1789 essay which led up to the Revolution. In the end, de Gouges was guillotined in Paris in 1793 for her criticisms of revolutionary authorities.


OK the chances are you have heard of Simone de Beauvoir, but do you know exactly why she was such a great figure in Frnch history?

A 20th century intellectual and feminist, whose book “The Second Sex” was a ground-breaking work in feminist theory. She famously spent her life with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she had an unconventional relationship. A series of affairs with female students (whom she “shared” with Sartre), jeopardised her academic career, but de Beauvoir became a celebrated feminist and advocate for women’s rights throughout the decades until her death in 1986.

A version of this article was published previously on The Local.


Strike calls in France on International Women’s Day

Men and women are being called on to finish work at 3.40pm on Monday to highlight the gender pay gap, one of many actions and demonstrations taking place around France to mark International Women's Day.

Strike calls in France on International Women's Day
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Several organisations and unions are calling for a strike to denounce pay inequality.

“On March the 8th, we will be on strike along with women all over the world to refuse to pay the price of the crisis with our jobs, our salaries, our bodies,” several unions including the CGT, FSU and Solidaires said in a press conference.

The objective is to denounce the gender pay gap that continues to impair women’s rights, but also to denounce the unfair burden that the past year’s health crisis has put on women.

“The lockdowns have been very heavy burdens on women for the past year, whether it’s in the health, work or home environments, increase in domestic violence. Not to mention the large amount of predominantly female jobs that have continued to maintained a level of normality during the lockdown,” the co-secretary general of FSU, Murielle Guilbert, told Les Echos.

The below map shows the actions planned around the country on Monday.

In Paris, a demonstration will start in Port-Royal at 1pm and move towards the Place de la République.

Organisations including Osez le féminisme, Les Effrontées and Unef have called women as well as men to go on strike on Monday from 3:40pm, in order to denounce the gender pay gap.

For a full list of actions around the country, click here.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised by a junior minister for having only one woman among his closest advisers.

“I told him ‘Mr President, you are not giving a good example,” Elisabeth Moreno, a junior minister in charge of gender equality, told French media on Sunday.

She declined to say how the 43-year-old reacted, but she praised him for making gender equality a public priority and for ensuring balanced governments throughout his time in office.

Every cabinet since Macron came to power in 2017 has featured equal numbers of men and women, although both prime ministers have been male and the majority of the top cabinet jobs are currently held by men.

Macron has also been criticised for appointing Gérald Darmanin as his interior minister – the man nominally in charge of the country’s police force – while he is under investigation for rape.