Swift punishment

Gender equality minister in France proposes instant fines for street sexual harassers

French Minister for Gender Equality Marlene Schiappa leaves the Elysee palace in Paris on July 19, 2017, after the weekly cabinet meeting. (MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Marlene Schiappa, an author and blogger who was named secretary of gender equality by French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year, noticed a loophole in a tough sexual harassment law the French government passed five years ago: there is no punishment for the sexual harassment of women on the street. The law, passed in 2012, allows for stiff penalties and fines for sexual harassment in the workplace or sexually harassing children under the age of 15. However, it provided nothing for the pervasive street harassment of women that happens in France (and many other countries).

Schiappa, 34, is the youngest member of Macron’s cabinet and she has a bold plan to deter would-be street harassers. She not only wants to criminalize street sexual harassment — she also wants to implement stiff fines that would be handed out on the spot to offenders. “You don’t have to follow girls on two, three streets and ask her 20 times [for] her phone number,” Schiappa told Joanna Kakissis of NPR’s Weekend Edition. “[Harassers] say, ‘Oh, but it’s my right. I’m just chatting and talking with that girl. I’m making a compliment.’ They don’t understand.”

For Schiappa, the campaign to outlaw street harassment is personal on a couple of fronts. She is the mother of a 10-year-old girl and wants safer streets for her child and the other young girls growing up in France. Schiappa has also experienced street harassment. She and her sister were often subjected to catcalling and sometimes groping as they walked down the street as teens. “We took alternative routes, out of our way to avoid the bands of boys.”

She added that a large part of the problem comes from men simply not knowing what behavior is inappropriate. “Our body belongs to us. It doesn’t belong to men. And we have to say it louder: Our body, our rules,” she said.

Her proposal seems to resonate with young women. Philippine Laprade, a 21-year-old law student, approves the the plan. “Obviously, I don’t think the problem is men going to women and say[ing], ‘Oh, I find you cute, can we have a drink’ or something. That’s not offensive,” Laprade said. “The problem is men thinking they’re entitled to yell at a young woman, saying like, ‘Hey, you, you have a fine ass!’ ”

Schiappa has not been without her critics — in fact she’s been one of the most widely-criticized officials since she entered politics in 2014. And she’s also not entirely predictable when it comes to ideology. In the interview with Kakissis, she holds nothing back and goes on to explain her “politically incorrect” stance that “having a woman president is not the goal.” Below listing to a portion of the interview from NPR.

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Read the full story at NPR.

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