Tunisian-born lawyer, feminist activist, and French politician Gisèle Halimi (1927- 2020) born Gisèle Élise Taïeb, began her career in Tunisia, qualifying as a lawyer in 1948 after completing her studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1956, she moved to Paris to practice as a lawyer, gaining her reputation as counsel in the Djamila Boupacha case in 1960. Boupacha, a 22-year-old Algerian activist, had been tortured and sexually assaulted by French soldiers during the Algerian War of Independence, and had been sentenced to death. As part of her defense of Boupacha, Halimi co-wrote a book about Boupacha’s experiences and trial records alongside Simone De Beauvoir. The case became well-known in France and Boupacha was eventually acquitted and released. The length and the publicity of the trial would build the foundation of Halimi’s career and she went on to build her career on cases which were often in the public eye or represented marginalized individuals.
Halimi was an active participant in the French Second Wave Feminist Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1971 she founded the group Choisir, which offered legal protections to the women who had signed the Manifeste des 343, who came forward as examples of women who had undergone illegal abortion procedures in France. In 1972, she defended Marie-Claire Chevalier, a 16-year-old who had been charged for receiving an abortion following a sexual assault. In another book co-authored with De Beauvoir, Le procès de Bobigny, Halimi defended Chevalier’s right to abort. Halimi’s public cases and her leadership of Choisir was influential in the campaign for the Loi Veil of 1974, which legalized abortion in France.
Halimi later served in the Assemblée Nationale, then as a French ambassador to UNESCO in the 1980s. Over the course of her long career, she contributed to nearly two dozen books supporting causes about which she was passionate and was active in feminist and social justice circles until her death in 2020.
For digitized sources on women of this time period see Digitized Sources:Feminism in the 20th Century.
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