MFL - Fighting for equal rights

25th January 2013 at 00:00
Inspire pupils by introducing them to famous foreign activists

Do your pupils know the national motto of France: Liberte, egalite, fraternite? In any language, this makes an excellent topic for discussion and debate. Pupils could also write essays exploring whether one quality is more important than the others.

Equality is a good focus. Start by giving pupils short biographies of important activists. There are amazing stories of feminists, gay rights leaders and anti-racism campaigners who are famous in their own countries but unknown in the UK.

If you are studying French, reading about Simone de Beauvoir and her book The Second Sex is not only interesting but will also win you credibility when you talk to a native speaker or visit France. If you are studying German, find out about anti-racism organisation Aktion Courage instead of just looking at the Nazis.

The origins of equal rights movements are fascinating because they involve extraordinary individuals. Tell your pupils about Mujeres Libres, the 1930s anarchist women's organisation in Spain, which aimed to empower working-class women, who at that time could be forced into arranged marriages.

One of the founders of Mujeres Libres was Lucia Sanchez Saornil, and she was among the first to challenge the domestic stereotype of the woman remaining at home. A lifelong activist, she was a keen poet from her teens. Somewhat mysteriously, Sanchez's tombstone epitaph reads, "But is it true that hope has died?" (Pero es verdad que la esperanza ha muerto?)

Teenagers have a keen sense of injustice. Tap into this to spark their interest in those who have fought and still fight bravely to give everyone equal rights, whatever their gender, colour or sexual orientation. If possible, start telling the story from when the person was about the same age as your pupils and point out this link to them - it helps them to relate to historical characters.

Once you have captured their interest, set pupils tasks - some could be historical while others might be about present-day struggles for equal rights. Setting these tasks as questions makes them more exciting.

Who, for example, was the first woman to attend university in Spain? (The answer is Concepcion Arenal, pictured left, and she had to do so dressed as a man.) Which French organisation has the anti-racist slogan, Touche pas a mon pote? (The answer is SOS Racisme, established in 1984. Its Spanish counterpart is SOS Racismo.) Which was the first Latin American country to legalise gay marriage? (Argentina, in 2010.)

Pupils could present their research in the form of short talks, using as much of the target language as possible. They could do a role-play interview with the activist to dramatise the story. Get them to produce posters and leaflets in the target language, and perhaps a slogan, song or chant. They could even write letters of support to the equal rights organisations of today.

Catherine Paver is an English teacher and singer-songwriter who writes songs about her travels. Listen to them at

What else?

Help pupils to use alternative vocabulary in this activity from H Benzina. bit.lytesLeRacisme

Explore the issue of racism in France and Spain.

Get pupils researching the roles of important Italian feminists.


Find out about German groups that are fighting racism and other injustices.


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