Catcalls Plague France’s National Assembly, a Country Without a Sexual Harassment Law
In May of this year, France’s court decided to repeal their sexual harassment law. The law was repealed because many felt that the parameters of the legislation were too vague, leading to less convictions and ultimately not serving the victims of sexual harassment. The biggest problem with the decision to repeal the law was that any current cases, and any incidents that occurred during the hiatus of the existing French sexual harassment law, are left without recourse for the victims involved.
Courts are still mulling over the definition of the newest sexual harassment law, but women in the National Assembly still face extremely sexist and unprofessional working conditions. The Associated Press notes that Cabinet minister Cecile Duflot was catcalled and hooted at during an assembly while she presented an urban development plan.
This Tuesday the same National Assembly that outright harassed one of it’s female cabinet members in public while she attempted to speak, began to work on passing the new sexual harassment law. The government is attempting to pass the law as quickly as possible in order to reinstate some protection for victims of harassment.
The new legislation means that any sexual harassment case will not reach a judge in court for 24 months from the time the incidents are reported. The new law would also make sexual harassment a criminal offense that could include three years in prison.
New president Francois Hollande championed women’s rights during his campaign and pledged to push for more women in the government. He also pledged to draft a new sexual harassment law as soon as possible. Despite Hollande’s call for change, many women in France face extremely sexist working and living conditions. The Associated Press quotes Asma Guenifi, president of Neither Prostitutes nor Doormats, a French feminist group: “My fear today is that this new law won’t be clear enough, protective enough or global enough.”
Guenifi concluded that many women fear retaliation in the workplace in the wake of the new law. The intimidating environment of the National Assembly illustrates how prevalent the belittling of women in professional environments continues to be in France. One Deputy at the National Assembly stood up for the catcalls made at Duflot, stating it was a form of “paying homage to this woman’s beauty.”
While the original reason for repealing the initial sexual harassment law was that it was not comprehensive or powerful enough, it’s hard not to question some of the preliminary elements of the new law. It takes two years for a sexual harassment case to actually make it in front of a judge? What kinds of hoops will a victim of sexual blackmail or abuse in the workplace have to jump through in order to actually make it to the courtroom to convict the harasser? Hostile gestures and repeated sexually suggestive gestures only merit one year of prison once the case does make it in front of a judge. The new legislation may indeed be passed relatively quickly, but may be no better at protecting sexual harassment victims than the former law.
Photo Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen