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Africa Senegal Abdou Diouf Dakar Francophonie Summit Michaëlle Jean

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Canadian Michaëlle Jean to head organization of Francophone states

Canadian Michaëlle Jean becomes head of the International Organization of 'la Francophonie' AFP PHOTO/ Cole Burston

Michaëlle Jean has been chosen as the new head of the union of French-speaking nations known as "la Francophonie" at the organization’s 15th summit in Dakar on Sunday. She is the first woman to head the organization.


Appointed after intense debate by the members of the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF), Jean beat four male contenders to secede former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf who was the organization's leader for 12 years.

Jean, 57, was born in Haiti and fled the country with her parents when she was 11 years-old to escape the dictatorship of François Duvalier. The Canadian city of Québec became her new home.

She received a number of degrees in languages and literature from the University of Montreal notably and speaks five languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

The International Organization of French-speaking countries' new Secretary General Michaëlle Jean in Dakar on 29 November 2014. AFP PHOTO / MOUSSA SOW

During her studies, she was also deeply involved with helping women and children who were the victims of domestic violence.

She coordinated a groundbreaking study - published in 1987 - that looked at abusive relationships in which women were the victims of sexual violence at the hands of their spouses.

In 1987, Jean worked as a broadcaster for Radio Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). She was a journalist for 17 years and won many awards for her work.

Jean also received awards from the Human Rights League, Amnesty International, CBC, the City of Montreal and the Canadian Association of Cable Television Providers.

In 2003, she received France's "Médaille de l'Ordre des Chevaliers de La Pléiade des Parlementaires de la Francophonie" for promoting francophone culture.

On 27 September 2005, she was appointed as Canada’s 27th Governor General until September 2010.

In 2011, former Senegalese President and out-going head of the Organization of Francophonie, Abdou Diouf, named her Francophonie’s special envoy for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and she became Chancellor of the University of Ottawa in 2012.

Jean, who will take up the post on 1 January for a four-year term, is currenly UNESCO's special envoy to Haiti.