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Paris mayor says 'solution' found for black feminist event

Associated Press logo Associated Press 29/05/2017 By THOMAS ADAMSON, Associated Press
FILE - This Thursday, March 9, 2017 file photo shows Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, speaking to media after a meeting with French president Francois Hollande, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France. Paris' mayor Anne Hidalgo has strongly criticized a black feminist festival in Paris that bans non-black people in large parts of the event, saying she might prosecute its organizers on grounds of discrimination. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File) © The Associated Press FILE - This Thursday, March 9, 2017 file photo shows Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, speaking to media after a meeting with French president Francois Hollande, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France. Paris' mayor Anne Hidalgo has strongly criticized a black feminist festival in Paris that bans non-black people in large parts of the event, saying she might prosecute its organizers on grounds of discrimination. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

PARIS — The mayor of Paris said Monday that a "clear solution" has been found with organizers of a festival for black feminists, an event that had aroused her ire because four-fifths of the festival space was to be open exclusively to black women.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo had strongly criticized and threatened to cancel the upcoming Nyansapo Festival a day earlier because it was "forbidden to white people."

In a new series of tweets on the topic, Hidalgo said her "firm" discussion with organizers had yielded a satisfactory clarification: the parts of the festival held on property would be open to everyone and "non-mixed workshops will be held elsewhere, in a strictly private setting."

MWASI, the Afro-feminist collective sponsoring the three-day event, responded to the mayor's latest comments by saying it hadn't changed the festival program "an inch."

"That's what was planned from the beginning," the collective said of how the public and private spaces would be assigned.

Anti-racism associations and far-right politicians in France both had criticized the event over the weekend for scheduling workshops limited to a single gender and race.

France defines itself as a country united under one common national identity, with laws against racial discrimination and to promote secularism to safeguard an ideal that began with the French Revolution.

On Sunday, Hidalgo had said she would call on authorities to prohibit the cultural festival and might call for the prosecution of its organizers on grounds of discrimination.

"I firmly condemn the organization of this event in Paris (that's) 'forbidden to white people,'" Hidalgo had written.

Telephone calls to MWASIwere not immediately returned Monday.

The group describes itself on its website as "an Afro-feminist collective that is part of the revolutionary liberation struggles" and is open to black and mixed-race women.

The program for the first annual Nyansapo Festival, which is set to run July 28-30 partly at a Paris cultural center, stated that 80 percent of the event space only would be accessible to black women.

Other sessions were designed to be open to black men and women from minority groups that experience racial discrimination, and one space was scheduled to be open to everyone regardless of race or gender.

Organizers said on the event's website that "for this first edition we have chosen to put the accent on how our resistance as an Afro-feminist movement is organized."

Prominent French rights organization SOS Racism was among civil rights groups condemning the festival, calling it "a mistake, even an abomination, because it wallows in ethnic separation, whereas anti-racism is a movement which seeks to go beyond race."

The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), meanwhile, called the festival a "regression" and said American civil rights icon "Rosa Parks must be turning in her grave."

Identity politics remain a recurrent hot potato in a nation where collecting data based on religious and ethnic backgrounds is banned and the wearing of religious symbols — such as face-covering veils — in public is prohibited.

This approach, known to the French as "anti-communitarianism," aims to celebrate all French citizens regardless of their community affiliations.

Last week, several women attempting to stage a "burkini party" were detained in Cannes after a ban against the full-body beachwear favored by some Muslim women was upheld in a fresh decree.

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Philippe Sotto contributed to this story. Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamson_K

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