Interview with Isabelle Lonvis-Rome: a constant commitment to women’s rights

22 November 2023

Isabelle Lonvis-Rome was the former Minister Delegate for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities from May 2022 to July 2023, and was previously - from 2028 to 2022 - the senior civil servant for gender equality at the Ministry of Justice. The youngest judge in France at 23, she has spent most of her career in the courts. She has held all the positions of criminal court judge - enforcement of sentences, investigating magistrate, liberty and custody judge - and presided over the assize courts within the jurisdiction of the Versailles Court of Appeal. She was head of the crime prevention unit at the Ministry of the City and technical adviser to the Minister of Justice, Marylise Lebranchu. Isabelle Lonvis-Rome has worked in the voluntary sector in Lyon, providing assistance to drug addicts, refugees and a cultural association for prisons. In 2003, she founded Femmes de libertés, an association for women in the Oise region, which she chaired for 12 years. She has written several books: Vous êtes naïve madame le juge (2012) Dans une prison de femmes, une juge en immersion (2014) Plaidoyer pour un droit à l'espoir (2018) published by Editions Enrick B and Liberté, égalité, survie (2020, published by Stock). She co-edited the book "Emprise et violences au sein du couple", published by Dalloz in 2021.


  • You were Minister Delegate for Equality between Women and Men, Diversity and Equal Opportunities from May 2022 to July 2023. What were your priorities and why?

My aim has been to put in place a genuine inter-ministerial public policy on gender equality, supported by the whole of government and applicable throughout the country.

Working with fifteen or so ministers, I drew up a four-year plan focusing on the major themes of gender equality: combating violence against women, women’s health, economic and professional equality and a culture of equality. The plan includes 160 measures to be implemented over the next four years. It was important for me to draw up this plan as a political guideline.

Combating violence against women is the first pillar of the Ministry of Equality between Women and Men. Until we eradicate or significantly reduce violence against women, we will never achieve real equality between women and men. Nor can we forget that we live in a society in which a woman still dies every three days at the hands of her partner, and in which over 80% of rape victims are women.

Nearly 113,000 women are victims of domestic violence every year. To remedy this situation, I have made it a priority to set up a specialised justice system and to offer victims comprehensive, practical care.


  • In 2018, you were appointed Senior Official for Gender Equality at the Ministry of Justice. This follows a very long career in the judiciary. What are the main limitations of the French justice system in protecting women’s rights?

The justice system has come a long way in recent years, particularly since Emmanuel Macron’s election as President of the Republic and the Grenelle on domestic violence in 2019. I made a major contribution to this by being, at the time, a senior official for gender equality, by leading a multidisciplinary working group, by formulating numerous proposals – most of which were adopted – and by closely monitoring the implementation of the measures decided upon.

There are two issues at stake in an appropriate response from the justice system, and this is also what we find in specialised justice:

  • The first thing is to have trained magistrates and staff. Domestic violence is a specific form of violence that cannot be treated in the same way as other forms of violence or offences. To be able to judge it correctly, certain concepts need to be understood. I’m thinking, for example, of the phenomenon of control, the problems of psycho-trauma, the effect of shock or the role of memory, which sometimes conceals extremely painful events such as rape, assault or ill-treatment for years. This training is essential.
  • The second issue is the consistency of legal responses. When we talk about domestic violence, we need to think not just in terms of one act, one perpetrator, one victim, but in terms of the whole family situation. Specialised justice makes it possible to bring consistency to the decisions handed down by different judges, to avoid contradictions. For example: A criminal court convicts a perpetrator of domestic violence. If the family court ignores this decision, it runs the risk of organising the family’s life by allowing the convicted offender to meet the victim every weekend to exercise his right to visit and accommodate the children, even though it is well known that such times are conducive to acting out.


  • In 2002, you founded the Femmes de liberté association, which you chaired for 12 years. Your professional and personal life has been dedicated to protecting victims and vulnerable people, particularly prisoners, drug addicts and refugees. How do you explain this career path and these struggles in the service of others?

Looking back over my career, I realise that I have often been there for people who are suffering or in need.

The common thread running through my career, what guides me and what I have always fought for, is respect for human dignity. Throughout my assignments and encounters, including on a personal level, I have worked in different fields. I began my career in prisons, where I worked hard on prison conditions to improve dignity and promote rehabilitation. I worked on this subject again more than twenty years later, in Versailles, when writing my book on the condition of women in prison. I have also worked with drug addicts and political refugees, having been the administrator of a refugee centre and a reception centre for drug addicts. I’ve always been interested in the situation and future of young people living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and I became involved in educational initiatives aimed at them, first in the suburbs of Lyon and then in Creil. A very important moment in my career was also the introduction of the reform of psychiatric care in mental health establishments. As a liberty and custody judge, I organised hearings in hospitals with respect for human dignity as my only compass.

For over twenty years, one of my major battles has been for gender equality, with a particular focus on the fight against violence against women. As president of the Assize Court, having tried feminicide and rape cases, I realised just how far such violence could go. I decided to take up the fight against this scourge.

I dedicate this fight to all the women I have met throughout my career, in my chambers as an examining magistrate, sentence enforcement judge, criminal court judge and president of the assize court. I also dedicate it to the women I have unfortunately not seen, because it was too late.


  • In France, women’s rights are under threat, and domestic violence and feminicide continue unabated. Anti-rights movements are organising and growing in influence. What measures can be put in place to effectively combat this threat to women’s rights?

There are many threats to women’s rights. Almost everywhere on the planet, including in major democracies, access to abortion is being questioned. In the United States, the Supreme Court has called into question the unconditional right to abortion. If you had asked American women this question a few years ago, they would never have thought that this right could be called into question. That’s why I’m very committed to ensuring that the right to abortion is enshrined in the French Constitution. This would act as a bulwark and protect it from any attack. What one law can do, another can undo. This must be avoided and we must ensure that the right to abortion is a fundamental right, protected by the strongest text of our Republic, the Constitution. The President of the Republic has undertaken to enshrine the freedom to have an abortion in the Constitution.

We must not allow anti-rights acts to go unchallenged, such as the campaign that took place in Paris last May, with pro-life stickers on vélib’ bicycles. As Minister, I have initiated proceedings under Article 40 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to bring a charge of obstructing the freedom to have an abortion. At the same time, we need to continue with prevention and awareness-raising campaigns to prevent people from taking the plunge.


  • Today, you intend to continue your various battles. What are your current commitments?

Very soon, I will be returning to the legal profession as first president of a chamber at the Versailles Court of Appeal. The aim is to set up the first centre specialising in domestic violence. I’m very happy to be able to put into practice what I’ve been able to promote as Minister, and to get back into the field, into the day-to-day reality. Of course, I remain committed to the associations. Reflection is also essential, and to that end I’m going to publish a new book. Writing complements my work. It allows me to pass on messages and share the knowledge I’ve acquired through my experience, but also to suggest new ways forward and new proposals for progress.

When it comes to women’s rights, we have to keep moving forward and remain vigilant, so that we never take a step backwards.

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