The United States hasn’t been much of a shining example these days; from denying climate change to appointing people to positions they barely understand, and to discovering that prominent people have rich histories of sexual assault, our society can’t take much more of the power dynamics running our country. There seems to be one precedent the nation is setting, however, and that is in the call for change in the environments women have to face at work.
The same is happening in France, too. In France, one hundred prominent actresses, writers, and artists signed an online petition aimed towards President Emmanuel Macron. The petition was carried in the Journal du dimanche, a weekly newspaper, and has since become an open challenge to the President to change. “Mr. President, we are facing a grave crisis,” the petition reads. “Are you on our side?”
France is no stranger to sexual assault cases, especially in the higher echelons of society. Figures that have been accused of sexual assault in France include a competitive sailor, several members of the far-right party, and a state television executive. Harassment on the street level is so common that French social media has long had their own version of the hashtag #MeToo, calling it #balancetonporc, or “squeal on your pig.”
Macron is doing quite a bit to remedy the issue of sexual assault in the country, including working on a bill that could strengthen the consequences of sexual assault, as well as trying to outlaw gender harassment in the street. However, the signatories are hungry for more, setting out a list of five demands that they want accomplished.
These demands include: requiring a company to train its staff on preventing harassment; doubling the amount of abuse hotlines and abuse help centers; instilling mandatory training for those working at the hotlines and help centers; introducing a mandatory non-violence program into middle schools; and creating a campaign that is as widely circulated as a campaign for road safety.
The signatories have also asked for a guarantee that women who seek help from sexual assault can retain their jobs. “Like so many others, we often had to face the denial of people around us,” the petition reads. “[There is a] lack of being taken seriously by the authorities, [there is the] effort by our society to make us believe that it wasn’t so bad, or that we must have done something to deserve it,”
“One in two women are victims of sexual violence,” it continues. “Some are no longer present to sign this petition, struck dead under its blows. Others are even more particularly concerned because they are disabled, are lesbians, or suffer from racism as well as sexual harassment at work,” The women describe the situation as an “intolerable collective denial,” where issues of sexual violence are swept under the rug if there aren’t any voices to speak up for it.
So far, there has not been a response from the President on the petition. However, it has been officially announced that Macron will be speaking about the issue on International Violence Against Women Day, which falls on November 25th. “[The government has] taken the measure of urgency,” says Marlene Schiappa, Secretary of State for Gender Equality. “It is for this reason that the President of the Republic has decided to make it the great national cause of his five-year term.”
With Macron’s decision to put a primary focus on the issue, hopefully it will be France that sets the precedent for ensuring that one day, women can walk around the streets and the workplace without the fear of being harassed.
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