From a shepherd girl to French minister, the inspiring tale of Najat Belkacem

From a shepherd girl to French minister, the inspiring tale of Najat Belkacem
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem | Photo: AFP

Najat Belkacem's life is fit to be part of the fables where the protagonist born into abject poverty, battles against all the odds and finally emerges victorious. But there was no prince charming to hold her hand nor did she get a fairy godmother to help her out in her life. Najat fought her way to success through sheer willpower and hard work.

A childhood fraught with miseries, little Najat had to migrate to another country for survival. But even there, life threw up more challenges to her in the form of language and cultural barriers. Religious and cultural differences put her on the side-lines. But she survived all that and became the first woman Educational Minister of France, scripting history. Najat was also the first woman minister from the immigrant community. She was also the youngest Educational Minister.

From Morocco to France

Najat's life began in Morocco. She was born into the small Nador village at the Rif region along the Moroccan border. Being the second of the seven children of the family, Najat had to share the burden of the family and she herded sheep at a young age.

Her father was a labourer in France. Najat lived with her siblings, mother and grandfather in Morocco. When she was five years old, her father took Najat, her mother and elder sister to France. It changed her life completely. The only good aspect Najat could find in the process was that she could go to school.

French language posed a huge challenge before her. As she could not speak in their language, Najat, who was from a different culture, became a laughing stock before her classmates. But she refused to give in. She struggled but managed to learn the French language in her first year itself. She then went on to secure victory in every class. Even when the neighbourhood slept peacefully around her, Najat burned the midnight oil.

After school education, she joined the Paris Institute of Political Studies and took her degree in 2002. She then completed post-graduation from the University of Amiens.

She forayed into active politics by first contesting in the regional council. She became a councillor in 2004.

During this time, she fell in love with her graduate classmate Boris Vallaud and married him in 2005. The same year, she also became the chief adviser of the Socialist Party. And in 2012, she became the Minister of Women’s Rights.

She subsequently handled the portfolios of sports, youth welfare and city affairs. Najat became the Educational Minister on August 26, 2014.

Even when she notched up several achievements, she still was at the receiving end of criticisms and mockery.

She had to face several accusations in the name of religion and her modern ways of dressing.

However, instead of replying to the naysayers, Najat focussed on her work at hand.

Fingers were again pointed at her as the immigration proved to be a huge crisis. But Najat said that not every immigrant was a problem and even they can help in the development of the country. She further said that everyone had equal rights in the country.

Finally, criticisms fell by the way side as Najat continued to prove them wrong with her actions.