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"Women must be more involved in spreading the spirit of defence".

Sophie de Ravinel is a listener at 2e national session 2022-2023, defence policy major. The current strategic context was the trigger for her application. The political journalist from Le Figaro wanted to improve her knowledge of defence and national security issues. A few days after registration opened for the 2023-2024 national session, she explains why women should apply.

Did you know about IHEDN?

I used to follow his activities and lectures, particularly the Lundis de l'IHEDN. I'm very interested in defence issues: they come up in the debate at every major election, when a White Paper or a programming law is published, but unfortunately they are not covered very much in the press, apart from a few specialists.

IHEDN's mission is to spread the "spirit of defence". What does this mean to you?

I'm answering you as a journalist: my aim is not to join a caste of insiders who would have a better knowledge of these subjects, from the inside, with sharper networks. I value my independence. My aim is to gain a better understanding of the armed forces and the role they play for the common good. The spirit of defence is not just about defending the nation, it's also about building its cohesion.

Do you think this spirit is sufficiently present in French society?

I didn't realise it until the crisis in Ukraine. I grew up in Dieuze and Saint-Maixent, and my grandfather, father, brother and uncles were all officers! At the age of 18, I had a hint of a vocation. One day, I told my father that I was thinking of going to Saint-Cyr. He laughed in my face. It was a different generation. I quickly gave up the idea. I wasn't what you'd call a 'military fanatic' either. Journalism soon seemed a more suitable field for my temperament. So I stayed away from the army all those years, except from time to time, for technical issues related to the subjects I cover in my articles, and because it's a sovereign subject. But yes, I do think that French society today lacks cohesion and common ground. Communitarianism of any kind is damaging our country. We need to recognise that everyone has rights and an identity, but building a common home requires support for a few "pillars". This support requires a confident commitment; it is also demanding. That's how we should be with our armies, which defend us and are on the front line.

How can we ensure that women are more involved in this objective?

There must be roughly the same proportion of women in the promotion of the national session as there are in our armed forces, more than in the past of course, but still low. These statistics are broadly in line with those for defence-related sectors, particularly industry. We still need to look at the relationship between secondary school girls and female students and scientific subjects, and later on the place given to women in management positions. Progress is being made in this area, but we still need to push for greater parity. Under these conditions, positive discrimination does not seem outrageous. Was my application to the IHEDN accepted because it enabled me to meet the quota for women in the session? I don't know, but if that's the case, it doesn't offend me any more than it does me. It's a tool. It's up to us to prove ourselves afterwards!

Will our active and dynamic female core this year encourage other women to take the course? I hope so, because I believe in the power of setting an example. There have been pioneers in our armies. There are still others, in the closed world of submarines, for example. To claim that women can do everything like men is to run the risk of ideologically clashing with reality. But we need to widen the field of possibilities.

Why did you apply to the IHEDN?

To be honest, I had never thought of becoming an IHEDN auditor. I didn't think I had the level, that I wasn't relevant enough to enrich a group. That's a typically feminine failing, isn't it?

So what was the trigger?

Someone kindly suggested that I put my name forward. Surprised, I consulted the programme and found it fascinating. With themes that I've worked on in recent years. I was still worried that my profile, which is very much geared towards politics and society, wouldn't be selected, but I found the challenge stimulating. After years of covering political and religious news, I wanted to strengthen my position on defence issues. Current events oblige us. Like many of my colleagues, I spend a lot of time - except this year, which has already been a bit busy - on TV and radio. I used to suffer from not being able to deal with defence issues with any relevance. And then, a year of training, even four days a month on average, is always an opportunity to take stock of your career, to get your head out of the routine.

Do you plan to change speciality at Figaro ?

No, we already have an excellent defence correspondent in Nicolas Barotte! A "former" IHEDN auditor, he strongly encouraged me to apply to join the ranks of those who have taken the course at the paper, and there are many of them! I'm thinking of our diplomatic correspondent, Isabelle Lasserre, our Moscow correspondent Alain Barluet and Guillaume Roquette, who heads the editorial team at Figaro Magazine. My aim is not to become a defence correspondent, but to strengthen our political service in this area, and to respond more effectively to society's concerns in the current crisis.

So the strategic context had an influence on your choice...

It was a trigger, as it was for many of the listeners at this session. This conflict on Europe's doorstep affects us all, and has major repercussions on the balance of French society.

Would you recommend this course to political journalists?

Absolutely. Today, defence issues permeate all spheres of society. It's a national reality, but also a European one. When I was working on these issues, I realised that I had technical shortcomings. They prevented me from getting to the bottom of my subjects and meeting the right people. I wanted to dig deeper. Political journalists are sometimes criticised for being superficial. The only answer is to work on the substance, and the IHEDN provides me with a valuable background, not just on defence issues, but on all related subjects. It gives me a direct approach to economic players, for example, and to their issues, and therefore a better grasp of the political stakes. The experience is invaluable.

What could have dissuaded you from standing as a candidate? at IHEDN?

I think there's a specific difficulty linked to the age range required to apply. A woman aged between 35 and 55 often has young children or teenagers to look after. The statistics haven't changed: in French couples, it's mostly women who are primarily responsible for domestic and family affairs.

The studies carried out reveal another problem specific to women: they are often more "challenged" than men in their work (despite lower levels of pay). Under these conditions, it is perhaps difficult to find the energy and inner drive to add such a demanding training programme to these difficulties.

Sophie de Ravinel is a senior reporter in the political department of Figaro. She has been covering national politics (particularly left-wing parties and the environment) since 2008. She was previously the daily's correspondent in the Vatican and then in charge of religious affairs in Paris.