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French government convenes femicide conference – but critics say it’s 'meaningless'

Alain Julien, AFP | A French booklet on domestic violence from November 2004.

Amid more than 100 instances of domestic femicide in France since the start of 2019, the Macron government has convened a conference on domestic violence to start Tuesday. But critics say the government needs to do much more.

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France’s minister of gender equality, Marlène Schiappa, announced that a major conference on violence against women would be convened on September 3 with a goal of reducing the 220,000 incidents of marital physical or sexual violence that happen every year in France, according to official data. The interior ministry counted 121 femicides in 2018 – that is to say, a murder every three days.

100 deaths and counting: France’s femicide problem

Schiappa promised “strong announcements” from the first day of the conference, convened alongside 91 local meetings on domestic violence throughout France. She also plans to mobilise ministers with a wide variety of cabinet briefs to deal with this issue, starting with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and including the ministers of justice, the interior, education and housing.

However, this event has provoked fierce criticism from activists, many of whom are decrying a lack of funds earmarked to combat domestic violence. The pressure group #NousToutes – which rallied protesters at Paris’s iconic Trocadéro square overlooking the Eiffel Tower on Sunday after the 100th femicide in France this year was announced earlier that day – has estimated that it would take €1 billion to prevent violence against women. By contrast, Schiappa announced on Thursday a “special fund” of just €1 million for “field associations”.

‘Ridiculous’ budget for women’s rights

“It makes no sense to have a big three-month conference to talk about solutions we’ve known about for 10 years,” Caroline de Haas, a member of #NousToutes, told AFP. This collective will not participate in the forthcoming conference.

“You get the impression that they’re just talking and talking in order to cover up the reality, which is that nowhere near enough money is being spent to deal with this issue” of violence against women, Clémentine Autain, a prominent feminist and MP for the far-left La France Insoumise party, told radio station France Info. “These days we have conferences about everything – but they’re meaningless.”

“The budget devoted to women’s rights is completely ridiculous: just 0.01 percent” of public spending, Autain also argued. “We can’t do anything with that.”

>> Behind the statistics: The trauma of losing a loved one to femicide

“This government – especially Marlène Schiappa – specialises in making big announcements to tell us that they understand the situation when it comes to violence against women, but as long as we are bound by budgetary austerity, it’s clear that it’s not really a priority,” she continued.

“This conference is just another way of doing nothing,” added the actress Eva Darlan at a rally held in front of the Paris city hall on Wednesday.

But fortunately for Schiappa, some pressure groups have a positive opinion of her initiative. “Any discussion about this issue is useful and necessary,” Françoise Brié, executive director of the FNSF organisation, told AFP, as well as pointing out that the government granted extra funding to the group’s 3919 hotline for violence against women.

Similarly, Marie Cervetti, an activist from the FIT organisation, told journalists that she has “a lot of hope for this conference” and that it activists could use it as a “strategic base to fight sexual violence”.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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