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Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Street Harassment Highlighted by Belgian Film Maker

In Film, Movements, Society on August 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Belgian film maker Sofie Peeters has made a film about her experiences of street harassment in Brussels, Belgium. Femme de la Rue has attracted attention in the press for its secretly-filmed footage of the comments and sometimes physical harassment that Sofie received whilst wearing a dress around her neighbourhood. It has also sparked activity on the twitter hash tag #harcelementdelarue.

The film begins [see youtube video above for an interview followed by the full film] with Sofie interviewing women living in Brussels about their experiences of street harassment, what measures they take to avoid it and why they think it happens. Sofie then interviews different groups of men from her neighbourhood to determine why street harassment happens. One group of young men explain that they are aiming to initiate conversation with women they shout at, often with the hopes of having some sort of sexual encounter. The group of older men that Sofie confronts, however, believed that by making comments they are fulfilling the purpose of women wearing make-up, clothes or [to take it to the extreme conclusion of that logic] leaving the house.

It was not just sexually suggestive comments either. “Bicth” and “whore” were used several times, revealing the aggressive nature of some of the harassment.

In the above interview for Belgian TV, Sofie states that all the secretly-filmed footage of the harassment she received was filmed in the space of one afternoon [3:03].

She is also asked by the interviewer to address criticism that this could be portrayed as a racist film. Many of the men she questions are of foreign descent, so there is a seeming bias against these different groups. In the interview Sofie describes street harassment [according to the subtitles] as a “small problem within the foreign communities”.

The film has made waves on twitter, where many women have begun to testify about their own experiences of street harassment via #harcelementdelarue. It seems that Femmes de la Rue has touched a nerve, but it remains to be seen whether it has done so in a fair and balanced way.

For more information, read the Guardian’s take on the film here.

French Sexual Harassment Law Expected Imminentley

In Crime, Politics, Society on May 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

Image from Liberation.fr

In her new role as Minister for Justice, Christiane Taubira has announced that there will soon be a new law created against sexual harassment. At present, there is no law against sexual harassment in France as it was abolished earlier in May. The previous law, dating back to 1992,  was abolished as it was considered to be “too vague” (trop flou) and it was feared that there was “the possibility of condemning people who are simply flirting” (la possibilité de condamner de simples dragueurs).  Anyone convicted of sexual harassment could be punished with “up to a year in prison and fined up to 15,000 euros” (d’un an d’emprisonnement et de 15 000 euros d’amende).

The end of this law triggered protest amongst women’s rights groups who saw the potential for victims of sexual harassment to go unheard and without justice. The Association européenne contre les Violences faites aux Femmes au Travail [AVFT] (European Association against Workplace Violence against Women) launched a campaign to have the law reinstated, including a letter petitioning the incoming President François Hollande.

This week, the new Minister for Justice reacted to what she sees as,  “a completely intolerable legal loophole ” (C’est un vide juridique absolument insupportable). This commitment was made by Hollande during his campaign, on the exact same day that the law was abolished [4th May 2012]. The law was originally abolished because it was feared that it would be too easy to wrongly convict people of sexual harassment. It is hoped that this new law will be better structured as to protect victims, but also to prevent people from being wrongly imprisoned or fined.

For more information, read about the law’s abolition here and what Christiane Taubira had to say on the new law here.

Recommended Reads:

17/05/2012: Influential French Women: Christiane Taubira

27/03/2012: If Hollande becomes President, will it benefit the women of France?

16/05/2012: Hollande Delivers on Equality Promise

Hollande Delivers on Equality Promise

In Politics, Society on May 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Image from Liberation.fr

During campaign season, Hollande was very forthcoming about his promises regarding women’s rights. From childcare to contraception, he set out several policies which aimed to help women in their everyday lives. There was a certain amount of scepticism as to whether all of these policies would be implemented after a potential election victory.

Today Hollande announced who would be the members of his cabinet, including the newly-created post of Minister for the Rights of Women (as promised in his International Women’s Day speech). The cabinet included, for the first time in French history, an equal number of male and female ministers. All the names that were announced have long been prominent names in French political activism and politics, such as; Cécile Duflot [Minister for Housing], Najat Vallaud-Belkacem [Minister for the Rights of Women] and Christiane Taubira [Minster for Justice]. Hollande has also been credited for reflecting France’s cultural and racial diversity in his appointments.

It seems that Hollande has begun to follow through with his promises to women. Although we are unable to see the long-term changes only several days into his presidency, it is clear that Hollande’s decisions today will be forever remembered as a momentous occasion for women in France.

For more information on this news, see the Guardian’s article here, Liberation’s coverage of the new cabinet here and Le Monde’s candidate-by-candidate break-down here. Also, why not read Triple F’s profiles of  some of these influential women? [See Archives]

If Hollande becomes President, will it benefit the women of France?

In Politics, Society on March 27, 2012 at 7:39 pm

François Hollande in Reims. Image from francoishollande.fr.

“It is the 8th of March and it’s International Women’s Day. But this can’t be the fight of just one day, it should be a fight fought daily, every day, and it will be something we undertake together.” – François Hollande

“Nous sommes le 8 mars, c’est la Journée internationale des femmes. Mais ce ne peut pas être le combat d’un jour ; ce doit être le combat de chaque jour, de tous les jours, et ce sera le sens de ce que nous allons engager ensemble.” – François Hollande

A quick look at the latest polls will tell you that Francois Hollande is most likely to be voted in as France’s next President. But what does this mean for France’s female population, and will it satisfy French feminists?

In a speech made in Riems (on International Women’s Day -8th March), Hollande said, “I want to tell (all the women) of the France of tomorrow, of the France after the 6th of May, that it will be a France where women will have the same opportunities, the same rights and the same capacity as men to succeed in their lives.” (Je veux (à toutes les femmes) dire que la France de demain, la France de l’après 6 mai, ce sera la France où les femmes auront les mêmes chances, les mêmes droits, les mêmes capacités que les hommes pour réussir leur vie.) He obviously has a good speech writer, but what does he propose to actually do to achieve these aims?

As has already been discussed on this blog, February saw debates arise about the accessibility of contraception for minors in France. Almost a month after the publication of a report recommending contraception be made more freely available for teenagers in France, François Hollande announced on his website and during his speech in Reims that he would support universal and free contraception to be made accessible for young girls across the country: “We have young teenage girls who can’t access contraception, for reasons related to where they live and their family situation… I will therefore introduce a plan for contraception for minors. The day after the election, there will be a reform to implement this plan which will offer these young women, throughout the country, access to free and anonymous contraception with consultation from a doctor.” (Nous avons des jeunes filles mineures qui ne peuvent pas accéder à la contraception, pour des raisons qui tiennent à la géographie, à la situation de famille…J’instaurerai donc un forfait mineur contraception. Il y aura au lendemain de l’élection présidentielle une réforme mettant en œuvre ce forfait qui offrira à ces jeunes filles, partout sur le territoire, l’accès à la contraception gratuite, accompagnée par un médecin et anonyme.) This is good news, surely, for feminists in France who have been fighting for greater free and anonymous access to birth-control, although there will surely be some struggle with the right wing to make this possible.

“The feminist battle is a social battle. It’s a battle for the recognition of dignity, for solidarity. It’s a fight that recognises the unique circumstances of women, but above that, one that wants to overcome the inevitable gender differences in nature, in each journey, in our origins in order to bring us together as one republic, the French Republic, based on these values.” – François Hollande

“Le combat féministe est un combat social. C’est un combat pour la reconnaissance de la dignité, pour l’égalité, pour la solidarité. C’est un combat qui reconnaît la situation particulière des femmes, mais au-delà, qui veut dépasser ce qui est forcément des différences liées au sexe, à la nature, au parcours, aux origines, pour nous mettre ensemble dans la même République, la République française, fondée sur des valeurs.” – François Hollande

Hollande proposes to address male and female inequalities in politics and law by creating a Minister for the Rights of Women (un ministère du Droit des femmes). He hastens to note that this new minister will not be there to create further bureaucracy and more laws but make sure there are laws which are, “better enforced, effective and able to be realistically applied” (c’est des lois mieux appliquées, effectives et capables de mettre le droit dans la réalité).

In his speech, Hollande directly addresses the male-female pay gap in France (with a woman’s average salary almost 25% lower than a man’s). He insists companies will be made to enforce equal pay law effectively, and if they don’t comply they will lose tax benefits related to women’s jobs. This is a great idea in theory, but it remains to be tested in practise.

Hollande then addresses what he views to be the three biggest issues of inequality facing French women in today’s society – childcare, abortion rights and violence against women.

Firstly he talks about the need for more accessible childcare, especially when 80% of all part-time jobs are taken by women. He hopes that this would allow more women to find stable and full-time work without the worries of finding affordable childcare. There are no details as to how this would be financed.

The second proposal he announces on the subject of reproduction rights, however, is much bolder. He proposes to make abortions free through social security for every women, not just minors, and available in every medical facility in France. This is a big move for a country which did not legalize abortion until 1975 and will undoubtedly face opposition.

The third and final proposal seeks to help end violence against women. If elected, Hollande wants to make it legally possible for women to force violent partners out of the home in order to stabilize family life and housing for children and women in violent relationships.

Hollande may be able to talk the feminist talk, but it remains to be seen whether any of his great proposals will find support or funding. It is one thing to support women in pre-election speeches, but the real test will be to see what happens when he gets the keys to the office.

Read Hollande’s speech here, his proposals for contraception for minors here and the Guardian news feed for François Hollande here

“#ididnotreport” Crosses the Channel

In Crime, Movements, Society on March 26, 2012 at 10:48 am

*Trigger Warning*

On Twitter, the hashtag #ididnotreport began as a voice for rape victims (both male and female) to give their testimonies of unreported rape and sexual assault. The point being to highlight the number of unreported rapes and sexual assaults in the UK and worldwide.

According to Le Monde, the hashtag #jenaipasportéplainte (#ididnotreport ‘s French counterpart) was started on Twitter on the 22nd of March by the movement Femmes en Résistance. The hastag is accompanied by a wordpress blog entitled “pasdejusticepasdepaix” (No justice, no peace) which provides information on rapes and conviction rates in France.

Pasdejusticepasdepaix has documented some of the testimonies which have appeared on Twitter under #jenaipasportéplainte. What can be read is very harrowing, but shows, very sadly, the common experiences of rape and sexual assault victims who felt that they could not report what had happened because of fear or a sense of helplessness. It is estimated that of the rapes and sexual assaults that are committed in France each year, only 8% of victims report the assault or rape.

Pasdejusticepasdepaix has also begun a petition to raise awareness of the low report rate and conviction rates of rapes in France. The manifesto is thus, “We demand a broad reflection upon the running of our judicial system, so that it finally begins to abandon its patriarchal reactions, at all levels and to consider all means of protecting the victims of sexual violence: the children, women and men who go through hell on a daily basis.” (Nous demandons l’ouverture d’une vaste réflexion sur le fonctionnement de notre système judiciaire  pour qu’il commence, enfin, à tous les niveaux, à abandonner ses réflexes patriarcaux, et à envisager tous les moyens nécessaires pour protéger les victimes de violences sexuelles, enfants, femmes et hommes qui subissent l’enfer au quotidien.)

As of the 26th of March, there have been 1,406  on the petition.

Read Pasdejusticepasdepaix here, the petition here and the Le Monde article here.  

The End for ‘Mademoiselle’

In Movements, Politics, Society on February 22, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Still from the Osez le Feminisme campaign video "Madame Mademoiselle Clown"

The female title ‘Mademoiselle’ (the equivalent of ‘Miss’ in English) is to be made no longer available on official French governmental forms according to the French prime minister’s office. From now onwards there will only be one option available to women – Madame (‘Mrs’, but also used as a general term of address). Libération noted that the terms “nom de jeune fille” (maiden name) and “nom d’épouse” (married name) were also to be removed. The Guardian reported that these changes were in response to “the persistence of terms referring, without justification or need, to women’s matrimonial situation.”

The campaign against ‘Mademoiselle’ began in September 2011 with the launch of a campaign headed by the feminist movements Chiennes de Garde and Osez le Feminisme.  The two movements created the joint website madameoumadame.fr (“Madame or Madame”), arguing that being called ‘Mademoiselle’ is “not flattering!” and “not compulsary!”. The campaign was concerned that whilst men were able only to choose “Monsieur” (‘Mr’), women were being unnecessarily judged by their marital status: “It is much more polite to call a woman ‘Madame’, and also to not judge her on her private life.” (Il est bien plus poli d’appeler une femme «madame», et ainsi de ne pas porter de jugement sur sa vie privée. ) In the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec ‘Mademoiselle’, according to egalite-infos.fr, has long been a derogatory term.

The use of two titles for women has already been eliminated in Denmark, USA and Germany. There has been a similar shift in Britain, too, with the availability of  ‘Miss’, ‘Mrs’ and ‘Ms’ as titles for women. However, in the UK it has been a move that has widened women’s choice rather than reducing the choice to equal it with the number of titles available to men.

Ultimately, the collective of Osez le Feminisme and Chiennes de Garde believe that defining women with titles according to marital status is to define women in relation to their status with men. Marie-Noëlle Bas from the Chiennes de Garde said, “It’s as if marriage gives women extra value. Today marriage is a choice and a personal matter, so why still define women by their marital status?”  (comme si le mariage conférait une valeur supplémentaire aux femmes. Alors qu’aujourd’hui le mariage relève d’un choix et de la vie privée, pourquoi encore définir les femmes en fonction de leur statut matrimonial ?)

For more information see the Guardian article here, the “Madame Mademoiselle Clown” video here, the Liberation article here and the Égalité Infos article here

Is contraception soon to be free for minors in France?

In Health, Society on February 18, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Image from liberation.fr

A report entitled “Let’s talk to our teens about sex? Preventing unplanned pregnancies in young girls.” (Et si on parlait de sexe à nos ados ? Pour éviter les grossesses non prévues chez les jeunes filles) was presented to the French Secretary of State for Young People on the 16th of February, this week.

The report, conducted by one of France’s foremost gynaecologists Israël Nisand, recommends that the government and pharmaceutical companies work together to provide free and anonymous contraception for young girls in France. The proposal advocates the anonymity of access to contraception because, at present, contraception for minors is only available through the health insurance of parents and guardians. The professionals who have produced the report hope that access to free and anonymous contraception would reduce the number of abortions undertaken by young girls.

This position on birth control, although supported by politicians such as the current Secretary of State for Young People, Jeanette Bougrab, has met opposition from others, most notably Nora Berra the Secretary of State for Health. Ms. Berra, in 2011, stated her preference for free and anonymous access to contraception to remain available only in family planning centres. Furthermore, the plans that were blocked in 2011 were mainly aimed at women between the ages of 20 and 30, not at teenage girls.

Currently there are some regional systems in place that allow teenagers in France access to one free medical consultation and free contraception without the involvement of their parents. It is noted by infirmiers.com that the regional system of “Pass Contraception” is mainly supported by the left politically.

In 2011 Ms. Berra, part of the right-wing UMP (Also the party of current French President Nicholas Sarkozy), commented, “I want it remembered that the pill is a drug (…) I don’t want it to be suggested that this is a small pill  that can be taken easily without any risks.” (Je veux rappeler que la pilule est un médicament (…) je ne veux pas laisser penser que c’est une petite pilule sans risque qu’on peut prendre facilement). In the same article she also urges people not to under-estimate the “potential toxicity” (toxicité potentielle) of the contraceptive pill, making reference to the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in some women who take the pill.

For those with a feminist perspective at egalite-infos.fr, however, it is hoped that “this new report does not go unheard, and that the future government is able to broaden its horizons beyond reading damning findings.” (Espérons que ce nouveau rapport ne reste pas lettre morte. Et que le futur gouvernement se donne les moyens de ne pas se cantonner à la lecture d’accablants constats.)

For more information read the egalite-infos.fr article here, the Le Monde article here and the Libération article here (All in French, unfortunately!).   

French Women Twice as Likely to Attempt Suicide than French Men

In Health, Society on December 19, 2011 at 10:34 am

It was reported last week that in a survey of 27,000 French people aged 15-85, 5.5% admitted to already having attempted suicide at some point in their lives. The report was published by the Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire [BEH] (Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin), which also added that more than 10,400 people die from committing suicide every year in France. It was also revealed that French women were twice as likely as French men to attempt suicide and the most likely period for women to attempt suicide was between 15-19. So why is it that French women in particular account for twice as many suicide attempts than French men?

TF1 accounts for the disproportionately high numbers of women attempting suicide by estimating that men are more likely to commit suicide using more violent methods than women (which are therefore more ‘successful’). In 2009, of the more than 10,400 deaths by suicide in France, 75% were men and only 25% were women. Thus, women are more likely to survive suicide attempts, which is why the survey may have recorded a disproportionately high percent of female suicide attempts.

However, when looking at mental health statistics, specifically depression rates, there seems to be correlation between suicide rates. A paper published by l’INSEE revealed that in 2003, among French people in the île-de-France, women were twice as likely as men to be depressed. The paper also mentions that comparing profession, age, family and professional situations between mean and women like-for-like, women were still twice as likely as men to be seriously depressed.

No links are made in the press between mental health, specifically depression rates and suicide attempt rates. Furthermore, there is no suggestion of how to prevent more suicide attempts. Dr. Jean-Louis Terra, in TF1, describes the findings as “one more piece of the puzzle which aims to better understand this daily shattering catastrophe.”  (une pièce de plus au puzzle qui vise à mieux connaître cette catastrophe en miettes et quotidienne). There is more research needed to link cause and effect if France is to prevent more suicides and thoroughly explain the disproportionate numbers of women affected.

For more information on the statistics see the INSEE report here, the TF1 article here and the Liberation article here

30,000 Faulty Breast Implants and the French ‘Bimbo’ Myth

In Health, Society on December 17, 2011 at 10:29 am

A PIP Prosthesis. Image from L'Express.

On Wednesday it was widely reported that eight cases of cancer had been linked to a faulty breast implant scandal that has seen 30,000 French women affected. However, the cancer cases and the faulty implants have no proven medical connection. The faulty implants were made of industrial grade silicone, which is used in the electronics industry, rather than the medical grade silicone which is normally used in cosmetic surgery.

The scandal sparked protests in Paris on Wednesday, in front of the Ministry of Health. The protest also highlighted the long-standing presumption in France that women who have breast augmentations are “bimbos”. An article in L’Express, entitled “PIP prostheses: ordinary women, not bimbos” (Prothèse PIP: des femmes ordinaires, pas de bimbos), comments on the absence of blonde women in the crowd of protesters. It’s hard to tell if this reference is ironic or not. The article also tells us that “They have all undertaken surgery for aesthetic reasons.” (Toutes ont réalisé l’intervention chirurgicale pour des raisons esthétiques), a blanket statement which does little to dispel the “bimbo” myth.

The Guardian interviews an anonymous protester who had a breast augmentation because she “suffered from depression and mental-health problems linked to body image”. This is a refreshing angle on the coverage, which, so far in the French media, hasn’t properly looked at the profiles of the women who are affected. Despite L’Express’s rather feeble attempt to balance the common, rather patronizing, media image of women who have plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, the French press fails to investigate the reasons why women undertake cosmetic surgery.

For more information see the Guardian article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/14/france-faulty-breast-implant-scandal and L’Express article here (French): http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/prothese-pip-des-femmes-ordinaires-pas-des-bimbos_1062080.html

Does France’s new anti-prostitution resolution protect or punish?

In Politics, Society on December 16, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Prostitues protesting against resolution no. 3522 in Paris. Image from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16047284

Last week, according to the BBC, the French National Assembly passed resolution no.3522  to make paying for sex a crime. What implication does this have for France’s 20,000 sex workers, and is this a move that will protect or punish them?

The Figaro reminds us that the French government has taken a pro-abolition stance against prostitution since 1960. The article quotes the resolution as stating: “[the principles of abolitionism] have to be proclaimed loud and clear at a time when prostitution is commonplace in Europe.” ([les principes]doivent être proclamés haut et fort à une époque où la prostitution semble se banaliser en Europe)

For some anti-prostitution campaigners in France this is the good news they have been waiting for. La Fondation Scelles has campaigned for years for the abolition of prostitution in France because they “believe prostitution is a breach of human rights of equality, of dignity and a source of social and personal violence.” (estime que la prostitution est une atteinte aux Droits humains d’égalité, de dignité et une source de violences sociales et personnelles) For La Fondation Scelles this resolution confirms the government’s commitment to an abolitionist stance. Furthermore, they see this resolution as a protection of human rights and a move that will protect sex workers by punishing their clients.

The French Sex Worker’s Union (STRASS), however, sees it as a step in the wrong direction. The Union believes the resolution will push prostitution underground and create an invisible problem: “What this shows it that the parliamentarians have no concern for the fate of poor whores, but to make prostitution invisible and to satisfy the demands of local residents.” (Cela montre que le souci des parlementaires n’est pas le pauvre sort des putes, mais bien de rendre le travail sexuel invisible et de satisfaire les demandes des riverains.)

The proposal will see clients being punished through fines and prison sentences, but SRASS does highlight that the welfare of the worker is not leading this resolution. There is a risk of punishing sex workers and forcing them into even more vulnerable positions to find work without really addressing the issues surrounding why people prostitute themselves. Legislation that is made without the consultation of key groups, such as STRASS, is likely to misunderstand how to help sex workers in France.

For more information see the BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16047284 , the Fondation Scelles website (French): http://fondationscelles.org/ and the STRASS website (French): http://site.strass-syndicat.org/