Gisèle Halimi was born in July 1927 to a poor and conservative Jewish family in Tunisia at a time when the birth of a girl was considered bad luck. The first few weeks of her life were spent being hidden from the public, as her father was reluctant to admit to his friends that he had a daughter. Similar feelings of being unwanted by her family followed Gisèle throughout her childhood, as she was always second best to her two brothers.
At 16, she refused an arranged marriage and moved to France to continue her law studies, only returning to Tunisia in 1949 to defend members of the Algerian nationalist movement the FLN. She returned to Paris in 1956 and married Paul Halimi, a civil servant.
In 1960, Halimi took it upon herself to defend Djamila Boupacha, a 22-year-old Algerian woman accused of having set off a bomb during the Algerian war. Djamila was arrested, tortured and raped by French soldiers for this accusation, before finally being sentenced to death by a French court, and then later pardoned and freed in 1962 when Algeria became independent.
Halimi was a signatory of the 1971 Manifesto 343, the open letter to government that was signed by 343 women who had had illegal abortions. This manifesto finally led to the decriminalisation of voluntary pregnancy terminations, and defended women charged with breaking the law that was finally dropped in 1975.
Halimi was also a member of the 1966 Russell Tribunal, also known as the Stockholm Tribunal, organised by Bertrand Russell and Sartre to investigate and evaluate the US intervention in Vietnam. Regarding politics, Halimi also sat as an MP in the Assemblée nationale between 1981 and 1984 during Socialist president François Mitterrand’s first term at the Élysée.
After a lifetime of achievements as a trailblazer, Gisèle sadly passed away one day after her 93rd birthday, on the 28th July 2020.