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‘Daddy killed mummy’: Women take to Paris streets with anti-femicide poster campaign

Jean-Luc Mounier | The poster reads, "Daddy killed mommy with knives."

More than 250 anti-femicide posters have appeared in the streets of Paris since the end of August. The campaign has been launched by women who want to pay "homage to the victims" and "make passers-by and public authorities react".

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Yvonne was 76, Mélissa was 26, Denise was 38, and Corinne was just 18 years old when they were killed by their partner or former partners. The names of these women -- and dozens of other victims -- have been meticulously recorded on the cobblestoned wall of Jardin Denfert, a convent-turned-art collective in Paris’s 14th arrondissement (district) on the French capital’s left bank. Since August 30, dozens of women have gathered there every afternoon in a bid to engage people with France’s femicide problem.

As of September 7, a total of 102 women have been killed in France since the beginning of the year, according to the NGO “Féminicides par compagnons ou ex” (Femicides committed by partners or exes). “Since the government announced its plans to tackle domestic violence [on July 6] and the measures having been put in place [on September 3], 26 women have been killed. It’s crazy, there’s reason for anger,” exclaims 28-year-old Marguerite Stern, a former Femen podcast producer and one of the founders of the poster campaign.

Some 15 women are gathered at Jardin Denfert to make posters. Spread out across three rooms, the women sit cross-legged as they carefully paint anti-femicide slogans onto white cardboards using black paint. They work in silence, reflecting the seriousness of the messages they are writing. “She leaves him, he kills her.” “In France, a femicide is committed every two days.” “Céline, victim No. 19, was killed by her husband."

At the former convent turned art collective Jardin Denfert, women gather every afternoon to make new posters. At left: "She left him. He killed her." At right, "Céline, defenestrated by her husband. 19th femicide".
At the former convent turned art collective Jardin Denfert, women gather every afternoon to make new posters. At left: "She left him. He killed her." At right, "Céline, defenestrated by her husband. 19th femicide". Jean-Luc Mounier

‘A new way to call attention’

“We have written messages for all the women who have been killed since the start of the year,” 26-year-old parliamentary assistant Sophia Hocini explains. Together with Stern, Hocini has been part of the non-authorised poster campaign since it started. At first she thought “we’d have no more than 10 women” taking part. “I was surprised to see the engagement this is generating. At the same time it's a new way for us to draw attention [to this issue].”

Some of the women working on their posters have been there since the start of the campaign. Others are there for the first time. Although they might not all be activists -- or share the same opinions on other issues -- they are united in the battle against femicide. “It’s an issue that touches all of us,” 24-year-old engineering student Rachel says. “When you hear the witness statements [of people close to the victims], you tell yourself that it could happen to anyone; to you, or someone close to you.” For Rachel, the campaign is also symbolic in the sense that it allows women to reclaim the public space. “I’ve already been assaulted in the street several times; men who touch themselves in front of me, and others who have tried to hit me,” she says. “I’m not the only woman this has happened to, and so this is a good way for us to reclaim the streets.”

By taking their message to the streets, the women also raise awareness among people who aren’t familiar with the issue of femicide. “This is not going to affect the same people as on social media [where the initiative has gained a lot of traction, particularly on Instagram. Eds., note],” says 22-year-old literature student Jeane, who is spending her first Saturday with the group. “I would love our posters to raise questions about femicide, to make people react and to not forget the victims.”

‘Daddy killed mummy’

Together with Clémentine and Pauline, Jeane heads out to put up posters in the 13th arrondissement. “We don’t decide in advance where we’re going to put up the posters. It depends on the amount of people around and the size of the space available,” 22-year-old communication student Clémentine explains. The women take turns to paste the posters up and keep a lookout for police.

Clémentine, Pauline and Jeane head out for their poster-plastering mission in Paris, on September 7, 2019. Photo: Jean-Luc Mounier
Clémentine, Pauline and Jeane head out for their poster-plastering mission in Paris, on September 7, 2019. Photo: Jean-Luc Mounier

Passers-by are either friendly, or at worst, indifferent, in their reactions to the campaign. A poster that was hung up in the same area earlier in the week remains intact -- a good sign. After a while, Clémentine, Pauline and Jeane find their first poster spot: a faded gray wall that will bear the slogan: “Daddy killed mummy with knives". When the poster has been glued onto the wall, a nearby resident walks by and asks: “Who is daddy?” Pauline replies: “We’re putting up posters to draw attention to femicides.” The elderly lady, who at first appears wary, then takes a photo of the poster. “She even said she would speak to her daughter about our campaign,” Jeane says enthusiastically.

As the women move their poster operation into another area, also in the 13th arrondissement, the reactions from passers-by remain positive. “It warms my heart to see how nice people are about this,” 31-year-old Pauline, an editor, says. A woman sitting on a bench watches the women as they put up their posters. “This initiative is really good,” she says. “I admire the young women who get involved in such causes, especially on a Saturday night.” But she’s not fully convinced of the overall impact of the campaign, however. “The problem is that it speaks to people who are already aware of the issue of femicide. But if, on the other hand, these posters were put up in bars full of drunk guys, it might be different.”

‘We won’t forget those who are no longer with us’

The poster operations don’t always end well, however. On Friday, seven anti-femicide activists were caught putting up posters and were fined €68 each. This is a risk that the founders of the initiative make sure to communicate to anyone who wants to take part in the operations. “From the start we made sure people know that it’s illegal to put up the posters. Everyone is very aware of what they’re doing. At the same time, what we’re doing is completely justified because we’ve taken a moral stance on an issue that really kicks you in the guts.”

Twenty-five-year-old painter and embroiderer Mathilde agrees. “We don’t have any other means to make ourselves heard but by doing this illegally,” she says. “Women’s rights is something we always need to fight for. And so here we are; we’re not forgetting about those who are no longer with us, because it’s so unfair that they are dead.”

The more than 250 posters that were put up in Paris in the week between August 30 and September 6 also serve as a tribute to the victims of femicide. “It’s a time for contemplation for all the women who have been killed and who could have been our sisters, or our friends.”

The poster campaign has been replicated in a handful of other French cities including Bordeaux, Lille and Poitiers, as well as in Brussels in Belgium. Stern, who on Saturday entered her ninth day of the poster campaign, says that it has “become a movement without a name and with one message: We don’t want any more women to be killed. This is an emergency -- the government needs to act.”

<span lang="EN-US">This article was adapted from the original in French.</span>

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