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France is 'feminist country' battling to put thought into action

French companies must erase their gender pay gaps or face fines

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

A cultural shift must accompany government policies aimed at ending gender discrimination in France, the country's minister for gender equality said.

Plans by the French government are underway to tackle issues such as harassment and the gender pay gap, but such policies will be hard to enact without sweeping changes in attitudes throughout the country, Marlene Schiappa told reporters.

French companies must erase their gender pay gaps or face possible fines under a recent government proposal. Fines have also been proposed for sexual harassment on the streets, such as catcalling and obscene remarks.

"The idea is to lower the threshold of tolerance," Schiappa said on Tuesday on the sidelines of the United Nations' session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

"Let people see what they were blinded to."

President Emmanuel Macron, elected last year, has said he wants to make gender equality a top priority during his five-year term.

Appointed by Macron, Schiappa, 35, has worked in advertising, written and edited books including a collection called "Letters to My Uterus", and founded a popular blog for working mothers.

Her tendency to outspokenness often earns her criticism from France's right wing.

"I think France is a feminist country," Schiappa said, citing French author Simone de Beauvoir, whose book "The Second Sex" is widely considered an essential treatise in modern feminist theory.

"France is actually the birthplace of philosophical feminism," Schiappa said. "The problem is, we want to now go from philosophy to action."

Proposals to address issues like sexual violence and cyberharassment follow a "citizens consultation" of several months that queried 55,000 women on gender issues, Schiappa said.

"What is difficult is to change mentalities," she said. "What is really hard is to involve everybody."

Some countries are leading the way in gender equality but none is truly ahead, she added.

"Give me one country that is really an example for the rest of the world. I don't think there is one," she said.

Schiappa praised the #Metoo movement of women recounting sexual harassment and assault - which started in the wake of claims against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein - and the ensuing #Timesup effort to fight back in French workplaces.

French actress Catherine Deneuve recently made headlines denouncing the #Metoo campaign as puritanism gone too far.

Schiappa pointed to France's first lady Brigitte Macron as a contemporary of Deneuve's - but with far different views.

"The first lady is quite political," said Schiappa. "She is a free woman, she is the same generation as Catherine Deneuve, but she symbolizes freedom."

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