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French female ex-ministers say 'non' to sexual harassment

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A group of 17 former French ministers denounced the systemic sexism and sexual harassment in society, calling for an end to impunity for offenders in a letter published in a weekly newspaper Sunday.


Five years after former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York on sex abuse charges, 17 prominent former French ministers called for an end to sexual harassment in a letter published in Le Journal du Dimanche.

"We are engaged in politics for various reasons, we defend different ideas, but we share the opinion that sexism has no place in our society. This scourge is not unique to our universe, far from it, but the world of politics must serve as an example,” began the letter.

The signatories included Christine Lagarde – current IMF chief who served as economy minister under centrist former President Nicolas Sarkozy – and Elisabeth Guigou, a former Socialist justice minister.


The letter, titled, “An end to impunity,” was published Sunday following a week of intense debate on sexual abuse and harassment in French politics.

On Monday, Greens politician Denis Baupin resigned as deputy speaker after a French public radio station and an investigative news site released a detailed joint report of extensive sexual abuse and harassment allegations against the prominent politician.

Featuring the testimonies of eight women – including parliamentarians, local and Greens party officials – the France Inter-Mediapart report featured harassment allegations against Baupin dating back to the late 1990s.

Baupin has denied the charges, vowing to fight back against what he called defamatory allegations.

But the revelations have turned the spotlight on sexual harassment in French politics, particularly a culture of silence that has prevented victims from reporting incidents of abuse or harassment.

A day after Baupin’s resignation, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin finally admitted to acting “inappropriately” toward a female journalist following two earlier denials that he had tweaked her underwear while making an inappropriate comment.

The incident was mentioned in a 2015 petition titled, “Get your paws off me”, which was published by several female political correspondents and published in the Libération daily.

Laws exist, but they are not enforced

In the latest high profile denouncement published in Le Journal du Dimanche, more than a dozen female politicians noted that, "Like all women who have accessed a previously exclusively male environment, we had to endure and fight against sexism. It's not women who have to adapt to these environments, it is the behaviour of some men that needs to change."

Calling for an end to the old ways, the letter continued: "That's enough. Immunity must end … We will systematically denounce all sexist remarks, inappropriate gestures, inappropriate behavior. We encourage all victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault to publicly talk about it and to complain."

The letter also called on political parties and groups to “verify if such acts have been committed and if they are, to help the victims reveal the truth”.

The real problem, the letter suggested, was not the lack of legislative measures, but the failure to enforce existing laws. "Today, the judicial arsenal exists, but the laws are not adequately enforced,” deplored the signatories. “The Labour Code protects the employee, but it is not respected. Few women complain and very few complaints result in convictions."

The letter went on to suggest measures to tighten laws and ensure adequate enforcement. "Several avenues need to be explored," the letter noted, including extending “the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases”.

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