In January 2017, I started following a group of rugby players from the Chantereine High School of Sarcelles, a stigmatized “banlieue” in the north of Paris. Banlieue is a French word to designate a suburb. The banlieues are often socially and politically dismissed by the state. Sarcelles is one of the most impoverished and stigmatized cities in the country, and a significant part of its population has an immigrant background.
Last year the Chantereine club was one of the best newcomer teams of the country. This was in part due to a collective effort between a young group of women rugby players and their coach, Florian Clement. In 2015, Clement started a project called “20 Rugby Women Sarcelloises.” The main objective of this project was to use rugby as a way to limit school dropouts and to promote citizenship values. In fact, Sarcelles has one of the highest school dropout rates of the country. By virtue of this project and the values promoted by rugby — empowerment, discipline, teamwork — the young women were motivated to obtain their high school diplomas. At the end of the year all of the young women achieved their goals and got their diplomas. In addition, four of them were selected to join professional rugby clubs in Montpellier, Perpignan and Bretigny. They will continue their schooling in these professional training centers for the next three years.
At the end of the project, we made a large-format photographic exhibition in the young women’s high school to showcase the girls’ commitment to this sport. Twenty-two photos were displayed on the walls of Chantereine. The exhibition traces the strength, resilience and empowering role of rugby in the girls’ lives.
For these young women, rugby is an empowering way to overcome difficulties and gain confidence. It is also a tool to reverse gender, social and racial stereotypes and to change the image of young women living in the French suburbs.
This project is part of doctoral research in photography, sociology and visual anthropology at the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences of Paris).
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