Meet Marlne Schiappa, the 34 -year old blogger and novelist at the core of Emmanuel Macrons revolution
The walk from the Gare du Nord across the Seine to Frances centre of power, a string of houses off the Quai dOrsay, takes a pleasant, circuitous hour: the route is a tourists dreaming. But for Marlne Schiappa, Frances freshly appointed gender equality minister, the street of Paris are the frontline in a war between the sexes. Where I consider boutiques and fruit and vegetable stalls, cafe and splendid architecture, Schiappas eye is drawn instead to the idling humen ogling young lady; to the handsome displays in every pharmacy window ad weight-loss answers Minceur Th Vert( Slimming Green Tea ), Ventre Plat( Flat Stomach and illustrated by pictures of delighted young lady using a tape measure as a skipping rope. France is paradoxical, Schiappa tells me. We are the country of Simone de Beauvoir, of feminist theory and doctrine. But we are also a Latin country with entrenched stereotypes.
She greets me warmly in what must have once been a grand dining room; the parliamentary district in the 7th arrondissement has not changed much since its vast mansions were built for nobility in the 18 th century. It is the day before Theresa May will fulfill Emmanuel Macron, Frances youngest ever chairperson, who assumed office on 14 May. At 39, with no campaigning experience, Macron has surrounded himself with young cabinet members who are new to politics, as a style of making a clean break with his socialist predecessor Francois Hollande. This week he made businesswoman Florence Parly minister for the armed forces( defence for four of the EUs five largest economies is now overseen by girls ); he has appointed TV presenter Nicolas Hulot as environmental and social transition pastor( the equivalent of Theresa May devoting David Attenborough a cabinet post ).
But Macrons most contentious appointment is Schiappa, at 34 the youngest is part of his cabinet, whom he has put in charge of equality between men and women, with a brief to tackle the gender pay gap and be enhanced women rights in the workplace. A former ad executive-turned-author, shes best known as a campaigner and blogger, and has outraged Frances right wing with her unapologetic feminism.
She demonstrates me into her airy, high-ceilinged office where we sit on new modern chairs, her replacing for the stuffy furniture that used to be here. This is the room where Schiappa has begun hauling in public figures to call them out on sexist behaviour( and then tweet about whether the meeting aimed satisfactorily ). She wears gold hoop earrings, her long, thick hair pulled back in a loose knot, and is friendly and straightforward in such a way that still rare in top-level politics.
Schiappa says that Macron did particularly well with female voters in the presidential elections. Why does she think that is? He was the first to say, Im a feminist. Second, because he believes in parity in parliament. Exactly half his cabinet is female. Plus, she says, unlike other politicians, he went out and listened to people. Genuinely listened.
Schiappas first objective is to tackle sexual harassment on the street. Its a huge phenomenon in France. Its that moment when a man is walking behind a woman, talking to her, and the woman can do nothing, because shes alone. She doesnt scream for help, because she guesses, Its not that bad, Ill walk, Ill escape. Men feel its acceptable: theyre being the French fan. Women are molested on modes of public transport so frequently, Schiappa says, that many will dress in ways to avoid it before they use the Mtro or bus. Its enough of a problem that the previous government launched an anti-harassment campaign called Stop: Thats Enough to encourage people to report any incidents. In France, if a woman is sexually assaulted, her first believe is, Now Im dirty and no one will ever want to marry me the social responsibility of the victim.
Her solution is on-the-spot penalties. Macron has pledged to expand the police force by 10,000 over the next five years: why not give them powers to police sexism in the same route they do smokers who fell their cigarettes? Twenty euros would be a bit humiliating, 5,000 would be more of a discouraging. At the moment, many humen are saying, Its not a big deal, were only having fun. And we say, No. She says shell be nailing down a precise strategy with the justice secretary soon.
Schiappa intends to take a similarly radical approach to closing the pay gap. In France, females earn between 12% and 27% less than humen, depending on sector. Her proposal is that major companies will be invited to consult privately with the governmental forces on solutions. Those who reject is likely to be named and shamed.
She is also keen to discuss what she describes as Frances culture of rape. Minimising rape or finding excuses, she clarifies, before offering two examples. The former vice president of the National Assembly, Denis Baupin, has been accused by eight women of sexual assault and he wasnt fired. Baupin denies the allegations, some of which date back 15 years, and has quit his role after pressure from politicians and the press. No charges were brought because the statute of limitations had expired( in France, it is just three years for sexual harassment lawsuits ).
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