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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

French Minister: Stop Thinking Sexual Harassment Is Normal, Change Mindset

PARIS – Despite being one of the youngest cabinet members in the French government, Marlene Schiappa, Secretary for Equality, has become a heavyweight feminist voice.

She used her media know-how and charisma to push for a new law against sexual harassment that was approved six months ago by the National Assembly, France’s lower house of lawmaking.

Now, anyone who makes sexist comments against women can be fined.

Schippa sat down with EFE for an interview in which she discussed the new measures, spoke about the far-right wave in Europe and the so-called “yellow vests,” a movement that originated as protests against a fuel tax hike but has since spiraled into an expression of wider discontent with the government.

What is your assessment of the six months since the law against sexual harassment was approved?

It’s too soon to say because it was passed at the end of the summer and came into effect in the autumn. We’re still implementing it. There have been, for example, sanctions against verbal harassment in public spaces, but not all police officers are trained for it.

I can’t say we’ve put an end to verbal or online harassment, or rape. In fact, only 1 percent of rapists end up in prison, because there are few complaints and few convictions.

Is it hard to apply fines for sexist comments?

Now there is no need to file a complaint. These fines, ranging from 90 to hundreds of euros, are applied in flagrante delicto (in the act of committing a crime). There have been several convictions of this sort, though our goal is not to increase them as much as possible.

We want people to stop thinking that verbal harassment is something normal for women to experience. We want people who witness harassment to call the police.

You have experience in fighting the far right in France, what would you recommend to other feminists who live in countries with far-right governments?

You have to put rationality at the center of the debate. We’re living in tense times and no country if free of the populist threat.

We also have to deal with hoaxes. People don’t differentiate between factual information put together by journalists and what we see on social media.

You’ve been a prominent voice against the “yellow vests,” what kind of movement is this?

There’s a lot of populism in it. There are some members with goodwill, others who want more public services, who are more on the left, others more on the right. The movement is claimed as much by the far right as the far left. It’s not a moderate or social democratic movement. There are lots of ways of thinking as “yellow vests.”

Is it feminist, this movement?

I’m not here to give lessons on being a good feminist. There are some who certainly say they are feminists. We’ve seen a lot of women coming out. But there we’ve also heard sexist comments against members of the government, the First Lady, lawmakers. There’s ambivalence in the movement. There’s a list for the Europeans (elections), but we don’t know if they’re for or against Europe.

As predicted by the World Economic Forum, is it going to take 100 years to achieve equality between women and men?

In France, we have pushed for transparency on wage differences. From March 1, all big businesses will have to publish their gender pay gap. It’s an important step. If they don’t do it, they’ll be fined.


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