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Nationwide 'Nous toutes' marches protest violence against women in France

Philippe Lopez, AFP | Protesters hold a placard reading 'Women Beaten - Justice Complicit - Enough!' during a demonstration in Paris on October 6, 2018.

For months, French feminists have set aside November 24 as a day for nationwide marches to protest violence against women. Protesters are hoping that last-minute blockades staged by the country’s “yellow vests” don't eclipse the women’s message.

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YellowVests, please leave us November 24,” @layemeraude tweeted when organisers behind France’s anti-diesel tax movement earlier this week announced a new round of road blockades this Saturday. “It’s the day for #Nous_Toutes, the day for when marches against sexist and sexual violence have been organised in all of France, it’s been planned for months! We really need this exposure!” she wrote.

#NousToutes, which roughly translates into “All of us (women)”, is a French grassroots movement that was born this summer when several of the country’s feminist groups got together and decided to take last year’s #MeToo campaign one step further and call more attention to sexist and sexual violence against women. In September, the group organised its first protest action, garnering some 600 people in Paris and a total of 4,000 across France.

According to French government figures, some 225,000 women are victim to domestic violence each year. Femicide, or the killing of a woman because of her gender, accounts for a fifth of all murders in the country. In 2016, a total of 123 women were reported to have been killed by their current or former partners, an equivalent to roughly one woman every three days. In addition, authorities say more than 250 women are raped in France every day, and as many as one in three have been sexually assaulted or harassed in their workplace at least once.

The second wave of protests was planned for November 24 – the day before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The idea is “to make society more aware of the extent of sexist and sexual violence”, Madeline Da Silva, one of the organisers, told FRANCE 24. “[The aim] is to send an electric shock through society so that it puts its foot down and says, ‘Stop’.”

“Thousands of people are expected in Paris and we have 100 local networks [who have committed] and 50 marches in France,” she said.

The movement has won strong backing from several French celebrities, including writers Marie Darrieussecq and Annie Ernaux as well as actors Philippe Torreton and Karine Viard. On Friday, unions representing more than 400 French female journalists, teachers, lawyers and caregivers also threw their weight behind the campaign.

‘Yellow vests’ focused on Paris

But the scheduled marches risk being overshadowed, or even disrupted, by parallel protests staged by the so-called “yellow vest” movement, which have erupted over the government’s recent tax hike on diesel fuel. The movement – named after the high-visibility vests that French drivers are required to carry in their vehicles – held its first protests on November 17, with nearly 300,000 people mounting barricades or using their bodies to block access to motorways, tunnels and airports across France. On Monday, organisers called on their supporters to protest again, urging them to come out in force this Saturday, especially in Paris.

Although Da Silva said she wasn’t worried about the “yellow vests” disrupting the #NousToutes protests, their planned blockades have already prompted at least one local organiser to cancel Saturday’s march. In a Facebook post, the organiser in Bourg-en-Bresse said she was worried the blockages would result in “people not being able to access the location”, and said she couldn’t guarantee the safety and security of those taking part in the march.

‘Shame on you’

In the past week, social media has also been awash with #NousToutes supporters calling on the yellow vests to postpone their protests. “On November 24, there is already the #NousToutes protest against violence against women. It would be very nice of the #YellowVests to ensure roundabouts are fluid, to leave cities accessible and to not protest. Thanks in advance,” Laurence Rossignol, the former French minister for family, children and women’s rights, tweeted.

Marlène Schiappa, France’s minister for gender equality, said she would ensure “that participants, whatever their message against sexist and sexual violence might be, can express them in their totality and be heard! I respect the citizen dimension [of the movement] and wish #NousToutes all success”.

Others have been more aggressive in their calls for the "yellow vests" to back off from their protests. “You’re rendering the women who fight invisible. Shame on you. You could choose any other day. Shame shame shame,” a Twitter user going under the handle @CerridwenDraw said in response to a “yellow vest” defending his decision to take part in Saturday’s blockages.

However, a defiant Da Silva told FRANCE 24 that she remains confident that the #NousToutes movement will be successful in getting its message out: “I think that if there are people in the streets, the media are sure to talk about it. Because this is historic, because it’s the first time in 15 years that all unions have called on their members to march for the same cause.”

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