Margaux Seigneur: A Feminist Investigative Journalist and Creator of The Second Voice
Margaux Seigneur is a feminist investigative journalist Based in France. Margaux travels around the world and reports on the field to better understand the challenges that women face in different countries, especially in the Middle East and in Turkey. Margaux has created, within the Think tank, The New Global Order, a department of investigative journalism specialized in women’s rights; The Second Voice. Margaux is particularly passionate about conducting interviews and surveys on issues that directly or indirectly impact women in sensitive areas of the world.
Margaux is now working in Beirut, Lebanon, trying to understand how the current crisis affects women in the political, social, and economic sectors. As in her previous trips, Margaux wants to promote the place of women in society by giving them more visibility in the media. Henceforth, she will be reporting their voices, putting a light on their determination to rebuild their country.
We are honored to have Margaux contribute to and enrich Rights of Equality with her journalistic storytelling and captivating interviews from the ground. It was an incredible experience speaking to Margaux about her own journey as a feminist change-maker and sharing that with our readers.
Margaux, How and why did you become a feminist?
I guess it all started when I was 10 years old. I was listening to the radio with my nan in her kitchen. The journalist was explaining how women were getting less pay than men for equal work. I was scandalized. Thus, I immediately went on the street and started to collect signatures from the inhabitants for a petition aiming at eliminating the gender salary gap. I collected around 50 signatures. In the head of my 10 years old self, it was huge; it was a revolution! I therefore proudly sent it to the former French president; Nicolas Sarkozy to demand him to implement concrete measures regarding this matter. He never replied to me. From then on I knew that I would dedicate my life to fighting gender inequality and most importantly, that I would take all the necessary actions for people of power to reply to me.
This determination never left me.
On a personal scale, I have suffered and carried the burden of what being a woman involves. At first when I was a kid, then as a teenager, and later as a student. I am hoping for a “finally” in this sentence but there won’t be any since every single day, on the street, on social media, etc. I can feel the weight of the condition of my gender.
After being deeply traumatized by those events, I finally came to the realization that none of those were because of me. The repetition of those tragedies was all linked to one element; my gender. Thenceforth, my sadness and feeling of guilt metamorphosed into deep anger and determination. Anger because I wasn’t the only one. Indeed, the phenomenon of sexism, rape, sexual aggression is widely spread. My friends, my family member, etc. are all touched.
Determination because I knew deep down inside that it is high time to put an end to this gender-based sexism and violence that represents rites of passage in the lives of girls and women. And so I decided to tackle what I consider being the biggest and oldest injustice of humanity.
What brought you to journalism/ Why did you choose to become a journalist?
For a very long time, I felt the need to go into the field to confront myself with what I was studying. It started at the age of 14 when I went to the National Assembly in Paris to question a member of the French parliament on the issue of sexism in politics. Since that day I have never ceased.
I deeply believe in the fact that when you go on the field, when you directly meet people, you can feel the emotion of your subject more concretely. You are no longer secured in your own environment. On the opposite, you put yourself in “danger” by going where your benchmarks will be gone, in the same way, that the interviewee put herself or himself in danger by testifying to you.
Henceforth, reporting from the field gain sense since you are the one relocating in order to bring back the information.
It must be noted that I strongly believe in the power of words.
I have always been obsessed with writing to defend a cause, to highlight injustices, etc. Thus, going to meet people who make a difference, who have expertise is very rich and allows to accumulate a lot of knowledge.
As a journalist, I try to help bring to light people who represent a change, who have something to say. To contribute to telling their truth, to report different realities is for me a very precious and valuable duty on a human basis.
At each meeting, I feel privileged that a person shares with me a part of his or her life. Indeed, I have this urge to spread it to as many people as possible so that they too can benefit from these precious interactions.
Journalism is thus an obvious choice for me. I am only at the beginning of my career but I feel like I have found the environment in which I am completely fulfilled. An environment that is constantly changing, where routine does not exist, and where encounters enrich me considerably.
What is the most empowering fact about being a reporter?
Deep down, I am convinced that everyone has something to say.
For different reasons such as the ones of security, fear, lack of means, etc. a lot of people particularly women, remain silent. Hence, receiving enough trust from people whose voices have not yet been heard or have been censored and having the possibility to tell their stories is one of the most powerful aspects of being a reporter.
I am thinking in particular of my experience in Ankara. Indeed, in Turkey, most of the international journalists are based in Istanbul. Henceforth, in the capital, there is a kind of void, an absence of media coverage in short.
One might think that because there are fewer foreign journalists in this city, people are more suspicious and reluctant to speak with them.
In reality, it is the complete opposite.
Being a French woman, journalist, feminist, and living in Ankara has actually helped me enormously to get into Turkish and Kurdish militant groups, as well as political and journalist circles. I had the immense honor to meet women, lawyers, activists, politicians who simply wished with all their heart to testify to a foreign journalist so that their fights go beyond the borders.
The dignity of an individual is closely linked to the degree of recognition granted to that person. Therefore, participating in the acknowledgment of a story, of a fight, and thus, of an individual itself, is an absolute consecration.
Tell us a little bit about “The Second Voice”?
I picture the Second Voice as a mobile microphone that is being used to amplify the voices of the women so that more people can hear them out. Indeed, within the Think tank TNGO, I created a department of investigative journalism dedicated to women. The goal is simple; to counteract the tremendous absence of women in the media. I am in no way original in stating that women represent half of humanity. Yet, the attention granted to them is way too often crushed by the domination of men.
In an article, a man occupies the role of the self, the subject of the story when the second sex, the woman, is left out and defined as the “other”. Therefore, since the man is considered as the founder and thus the subject of the society, words are written by and for him. History is being counted by men, future is predicted by men, it is therefore high time to report the presence of women. The idea is simply to hear their voices out.
Women have their words to say but either they cannot speak out or they are being ignored when they do so. It must be noted that those voices aren’t necessarily the ones of victims or the ones to be defended. Those voices are the ones of powerful women who fight every single day to defend their dignity, their gender, their culture, their political parties, their bodies, their rights in short! Their struggles must be brought to light. Society must pay tribute to these ignored and unheard voices.
The Second Voice engages itself in putting a light on those women by writing down their stories, telling their fights, photographing their struggles as well as their determination. Concretely, it is all about reporting matters that impact directly or indirectly women through diversification of formats such as; women’s stories, photo galleries, reports, etc. We are working in collaboration with a translator, photographer, etc. in such a way to ensure a diversity of angles.
You travel across the world and interview/interact with a lot of people on the ground. Do you see a pattern in the stories of women in different corners of the globe?
Culture, religion, nationality may change from one country to another, however, what I witnessed in every single story that I covered is the resilience’s capacity of women. Indeed, I have interviewed some women whose past has been extremely violent. For some it has been a prison, for others, it has been sexual assault, war, or even death but what I see in every single one of them is their tenacity and their determination to fight.
A few months ago, I have met this great woman: a Turkish lawyer who was defending Çilem Doğan. An emblem of feminism in Turkey. She had been sentenced to life for killing her husband, who was beating her and forcing her into prostitution. From her determination and relentlessness, the lawyer drops Çilem Doğan’s life sentence to 15 years behind bars. To conclude the interview, her last words were that she will continue to fight for her client despite the political pressure.
Still in Turkey, there is Oznur Deger, a journalist who spent 4 years in prison and who is ready to do it again as long as her voice and the one of the Kurds are being heard. In Syria, there is this lawyer who was defending children’s rights during the war. In Belgium there is Nadya; an undocumented migrant who went on hunger strike for 45 days to demand the regularisation of her situation. In Morocco, there is this nurse who, in the middle of the pandemic, helped undocumented pregnant women with medical advice and health care. Those stories are indeed the ones revealing the pattern of resilience and determination that women are constantly preaching.
Those stories are the reasons why I want to continue to report on the ground and why I want to dedicate my work to women.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a woman while working in the field?
How to deal with condescension? How to be taken seriously? When to speak up? Should I speak louder so that my question is heard? So that someone replies to me? After how many times is it considered rude to be interrupted? Should I ask my question now or should I let him finish his monolog?
Ironically, I only ask myself these questions when I am interviewing men. I have always been respected and taken seriously by the women I interviewed. Whether it was a minister, a spokeswoman for a political party, a lawyer, etc., no matter what language we spoke, we understood each other’s language of respect. I never felt the slightest condescension from them, no matter their social level and no matter how young I am.
On the other hand, I have been confronted more than once with sexism from some men. This has taken several shapes and forms.
I remember a reporter offering me help if I would be “nice” to him. I remember a man who refused to answer questions because it was a woman asking them. I remember hearing about me; “She’s such a cutie little journalist”. I remember being told to be “too young and too sensitive” to be a reporter.
It should be noted that when we are in the field in a country that is not ours, a woman is automatically more vulnerable than a man.
Sometimes I am so passionate about a subject that I can put myself in danger to get closer to it. It is often at this exact moment that I calm myself down by thinking about who I am; a woman. Even though I see myself as a journalist, I constantly keep in mind that for many I am defined by my gender. Indeed, I take precautions accordingly. I never go alone to an event that may be too dangerous. As much as possible my entourage is aware of where I am and with whom.
I already invested myself in sensitive subjects in difficult places.
I am willing to accept a lot of danger. But not because I am a woman. Because I am a journalist.
In general, and perhaps because my journalistic commitment revolves around women, I have encountered more benevolence than immediate danger. I am fortunate to have valuable contacts, both male and female, in whom I have priceless confidence and with whom I can work without worrying about anything other than reporting.