Women in French politics call for a #MeToo moment ahead of presidential polls

·3-min read

A few months before France elects its next president and MPs, 285 women working in politics say perpetrators of sexual and sexist violence have no place on the political scene and should be barred from running for elected office.

"We, women working in politics, elected officials, collaborators, civil servants, leaders of associations, activists who regularly rub shoulders with politicians, but above all women citizens, call on the world of politics to provide a comprehensive response to the sexual and sexist violence committed by our representatives," begins an open letter published in Le Monde on Monday.

Among the 285 signatories are hard-left MEP Manon Aubry, Socialist Senator and former women’s affairs minister Laurence Rossignol, Green party number 2 Sandra Regol and Paris councillor Alice Coffin.

"In Parliament, town halls, departmental and regional councils, men who have been accused, sometimes convicted of rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse of minors, and domestic violence, get elected, despite the rhetoric on the fight against violence against women, despite our repeated warnings," they write.

The hashtag #MeTooPolitique was trending on Monday as women shared stories of everyday sexism in politics.

"One of the current presidential candidates told me, in his regional accent, that he'd taken a long look at my backside and reckoned it would fit into just one of his hands," tweeted parliamentary assistant Mathilde Viot.

A history of sexism

A number of French politicians, from all parties, have been linked to sexual and sexist violence – most famously the former finance minister and head of the IMF Dominique Strauss Khan.

In 2016, deputy parliamentary speaker Denis Baupin resigned after eight women accused him of sexual harassment over a number of years. One of the alleged victims was former spokesperson for the Green party Sandrine Rousseau – a signatory of today's open letter.

Also in 2016, former finance minister Michel Sapin admitted to acting "inappropriately" towards a female journalist though he denied harassment.

Conservative mayor Georges Tron was sentenced to five years in prison in February this year for raping a member of his staff.

President Emmanuel Macron's appointment of Gérald Darmanin – accused of rape – as interior minister led to big protests in France in July 2020.

The probe into Darmanin may now be dropped after the investigating judge closed the investigation.

Women's rights groups were also outraged by the appointment Éric Dupond-Moretti – who has minimised the #MeToo movement – as justice minister.

Crucial elections

In the lead up to presidential elections in April/May 2022 and legislatives in June, signatories say it's time for a clean up.

"Three candidates or potential candidates for the Elysée Palace have been cited in relation to claims of sexual harassment and some of the current 577 MPs are perpetrators of sexist and sexual violence", they write.

"On the eve of these crucial elections we urge politicians to listen to the victims and to take preventive action and remove the perpetrators of sexual and sexist violence from their ranks".

#Metoopolitique

France has seen a #MeToo movement developing within the arts, notably cinema, theatre and opera.

Women sports journalists have also called out sexism and sexist violence in their field and last week eight women journalists publicly reiterated accusations of sexual harassment and rape against a renowned former television presenter.

In 2016, more than a dozen French former women ministers launched an appeal against sexism in politics. It would seem there is still a long way to go.

"Women's voices have been liberated, but when will they be heard and taken into account by political parties?" the signatories of the #MeToopolitique movement asked.

"We demand that the political world finally take into account the #metoo movement".

Their appeal comes ahead of demonstrations against sexist and sexual violence organised across France on 20 November. The organisers, campaign group #NousToutes, deem the government has not done enough to tackle gender-based violence, all the more so given that gender equality is the ‘Grande Cause Nationale’ of Emmanuel Macron’s Presidency.

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