Men who catcall, harass or follow women on the street in France could face on-the-spot fines under a new sexual-abuse law planned by the country’s minister for gender equality.
The legislation aims to crack down on the kind of predatory behavior that Marlene Schiappa says restricts French women’s everyday lives, making them afraid to leave their homes.
“In France …. every woman has experienced that situation,” the minister told CNN. “Going to work, in the subway, on the bus, between in her home and the office, she’s been followed by men, she’s been asked her number, she’s been asked to talk.”
“It’s about freedom … Women (end up saying) ‘I’m not going (out) anymore, if it’s that hard,” the author and activist turned politician explained.
“You can’t go to work if while you’re walking between your house and your office, you are, you are constantly interrupted by men who are asking you for your number … (or) following you.”
Law to shame catcallers
Schiappa said the exact details of the punishments involved had yet to be decided, but that the law would mean police who spot women being targeted would be able to step in.
And more importantly, she said, it was about getting the message across to men that such behavior is completely unacceptable.
“The idea is, symbolically, to say it’s not allowed. Because now in France, in the 21st century, you still have men who are saying ‘It’s ok, I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m just talking to her’ – talking to her for an hour by following her in 12 streets? No, I don’t think so!”
She said she hoped the law would embarrass those who harass women into changing their ways.
“Feminists in France have said for a long time that shame has to change,” she said. “It’s not about the victim feeling ashamed, it’s about assaulters, rapists feeling ashamed.”
But she says there has been plenty of opposition to her plans.
“We still find men who say … ‘It’s French culture, it’s love à la française.’ They don’t want the law to say it’s not allowed. There is cultural resistance.
“They’re afraid we are forbidding them to talk to women. I think it’s really important to have that debate, to say ‘It’s ok to talk but, it’s not ok to assault, there is a real difference.’”
Interest in the proposed law has grown in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Hollywood mogul Weinstein faces accusations of sexual harassment, sexual assault or other sexual misconduct from more than 40 women. Through representatives Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.
But Schiappa said she didn’t hold out much hope that the Weinstein case would spark a sea change in people’s attitudes.
“We say that every time… Now we’re talking about Harvey Weinstein, but who’s next,” she said.
Schiappa, 34, a former deputy mayor of Le Mans, was appointed France’s first gender-equality minister by President Emmanuel Macron in May.
She founded the website “Maman travaille” (Mom works), which supports working mothers and campaigns for equal rights.
Schiappa said harassment is part of a wider problem of sexual abuse and gender-based violence in France.
According to the French Interior Ministry, one woman in the country dies every three days at the hands of her partner or ex-partner.
Schiappa told CNN that more needed to be done to tell abusers that violence was not acceptable.
“I think it’s a cultural fight: We have to say to the men they’re not allowed to beat their wives. It’s not romantic, it’s not rock and roll, it’s not fun. They are not bad boys, they are just losers.”
But she said she also wanted to see people who were aware of abuse cases standing up and taking action.
“When women are beaten, there are people who know about it … neighbors, coworkers, bosses, the children’s nanny … there is always someone who knows, and who doesn’t say anything.
“And we have to say to the people who know, you have to take the woman by the hand and bring her to the police or to associations or to speak with someone who can help her get away from that man.”
CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.