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19 inspirational French women for International Women’s Day

Samantha David takes a look at the life and work of women she admires - who would you add to the list?

On International Women’s Day, we look at some of France’s most inspirational women Pic: Steven Valentino / Shutterstock

To celebrate inspiring French women, here's a personal list of women I admire, in no particular order.  

All of them are living, and I have left out actresses, singers, models, fashionistas and celebrities who in many cases are primarily admired for being beautiful or sexy. I have chosen businesswomen, judges, doctors, scientists, politicians, Olympians, a pilot, an astronaut and a novelist. 

Eva Joly is a magistrate and Green politician who was an MEP from 2009-2019. As a judge at the Court of Cassation in Paris investigating corruption, she took on the likes of former minister Bernard Tapie and the Crédit Lyonnais. She also uncovered widespread fraud in the oil company Elf Aquitaine, even after receiving death threats.

Frédérique Vidal is a biochemist, academic administrator and politician. President of Nice-Sophia-Antipolis University from 2012-2017, she has been the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation since 2017.

Frédérique Vidal is currently Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation Pic: GERARD BOTTINO / Shutterstock

Patricia Barbizet is a businesswoman whose illustrious career culminated in becoming the first female CEO of auction house Christie's from 2014-2016, and Executive Director of the Artémis Group from 1992-2017.   

Martine Abbou began her career as co-founder of the 'Journal de l'automobile' magazine, then worked at the Chamber of Commerce in Paris. A committed feminist, she founded the Wimadame network to support female entrepreneurs. 

Nathalie Balla is co-CEO of clothing and home decor brand La Redoute, and co-founded the Sista collective in 2018 to promote women in digital industries.  

Marie Bochet, who was born without a left forearm, won four gold medals at the 2014 Winter Paralympics, and another four gold medals at the 2018 Winter Paralympics. She is now a member of the International Paralympic Committee.

Marie Bochet at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 Pic: taniavolobueva / Shutterstock

Nathalie Katia Boy de la Tour has been the president of the 'Ligue de Football Professionnel' since 2016 after becoming the first female member of the Ligue’s administrative council.

Marie-Claire Capobianco is a member of the board at BNP Paribas, and president of the World Economic Forum.

Claudie Haigneré is a doctor, politician and in 1996 became the first female French astronaut to go into space. She spent 16 days on the Mir space station and was the first woman to command a Soyuz capsule during re-entry. In 2001 became the first European woman on the International Space Station. 

 Mélanie Astles overcame immense financial hurdles to become an aerobatics pilot. She has won the French Championship five times and ranks in the top ten at European and World levels.

Mélanie Astles taking part in the Motril Airshow in 2018 Pic: David Acosta Allely / Shutterstock

Fred Vargas (or Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau) is an academic historian and archaeologist, known for her work on the Black Death. The crime novels she says she writes to relax won the International Dagger Awards in 2006, 2008, and 2010. 

Claire Voisin is a mathematician known for her achievements in algebraic geometry. A member of the French Academy of Sciences, she won the Gold Medal from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in 2016. In 2017 she won the Shaw Prize, and she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2021. 

Emmanuelle Charpentier, a professor and researcher in microbiology, genetics and biochemistry, has been a director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin since 2015. In 2020, she and American biochemist Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in genome editing.

Anne-Sophie Pic in 2018 Pic: Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock


Anne-Sophie Pic is a prize-winning chef whose restaurant Maison Pic has three Michelin stars. She is only the fourth ever female chef to win three stars, and was named Best Female Chef in 2011.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi is a virologist and a professor at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. She was involved in identifying HIV and in 2008, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.  

Christine Lagarde, a politician and lawyer, was managing director of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), and now heads up the European Central Bank. She has been the French Minister for Foreign Trade, the Minister for Agriculture and Fishing, as well as the Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry. 

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is a jurist and politician who served as Minister of Education, Higher Education and Research. She is now the director of the global One Campaign aiming to eradicate extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030.

Christiane Taubira at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 Pic: Denis Makarenko / Shutterstock

Christiane Taubira, in the face of constant, extreme racist and misogynist abuse, as Minister of Justice from 2012-2016 worked to make it legal for same sex couples to marry and to adopt children. Taubira won the ‘people’s primary’ vote designed to select a single left-wing presidential election candidate in January 2022, but she failed to secure the 500 signatures from public officials needed to qualify for the first round.

Read more: Christiane Taubira wins the French left’s citizen vote

Laura Flessel-Colovic is an Olympian fencer with five gold medals under her belt who also served as Minister of Sports. She is ambassador for the AMREF Flying Doctors' Stand Up for African Mothers campaign, and also works with Handicap International.

Which other French female public figures would you like to see celebrated this International Women’s Day? Please share your thoughts via

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