Sisters in arms: The families fighting femicide in France

Sandrine Bouchait remembers the possessions laid out on the bed in her sister Ghylaine’s apartment. Ghylaine had put them there the night she had tried to leave her partner, Christophe.

Ghylaine had been wanting to leave for weeks, Sandrine says, but Christophe had been threatening suicide if she did. He had also been surveilling her movements, meeting her at work every night when she finished her shift.

On September 22, 2017, Ghylaine had had enough. She told their daughter to go and get ready while she packed up her own things in the bedroom she shared with Christophe in the fourth-floor apartment they owned in the southern suburbs of Paris.

As she was packing, Sandrine says Christophe, whose surname we are not publishing to protect the identity of his daughter, hit Ghylaine, knocking her to the ground. He took a bottle in which he had mixed petrol and water and doused her with the contents before setting her alight, Sandrine explains.

When the couple’s daughter saw the flames, she opened her window and called out to her neighbours for help. The fire began to spread. Ghylaine heard her neighbours trying to break down the door and shouted to the girl to run out as soon as it opened. The seven year old escaped suffering only smoke inhalation.

“In giving up her life, she saved her daughter’s,” Sandrine says. She has recounted this story many times to many journalists.

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