As a French citizen, I had to make an important decision in 2017: vote for our next president. There were 12 candidates, but I didn’t feel like I had much choice. If I wanted to see my chosen candidate elected, the possibilities narrowed to four options. Jean-Luc Mélenchon was offering a new program targeting young people, but I didn’t agree with half of his arguments. Francois Fillon’s election was jeopardized by fictitious employment of family members. And then we had Marine LePen with her extremist and controversial ideas. This left me with Emmanuel Macron. Like the majority of the French people, I voted for Emmanuel Macron to keep Marine Le Pen from becoming president. As a young president, he offered a hope for change and fresh ideas. With his claim that women’s rights were at the center of his campaign, I had faith that for once a [male] President would focus on gender inequality.
I don’t believe in miracles and a President who delivered all their campaign promised would qualify as just that. It was clear to me that President Macron proposed too many projects to accomplish all of them in 4 years, from creating a “Women’s Rights Ministry” to punishing street harassers. Nevertheless, I did expect him to honor his promises about significant policies. It seemed a realistic minimum for the President of a powerful country.
It has now been two years since Emmanuel Macron was elected and his Ministry of Women’s Rights is a State Secretariat led by Marlène Schiappa. Far from being a minister, a secretary has less power, does not handle budgets, and cannot sign decrees. It also depends on the approval of the [male] Prime Minister. The fight against female genital mutilation, the right to abortion, and aid for victims of violence are all causes still waiting for Macron and Schiappa to implement the promised policies. I should emphasize that my goal is not to point out every single promise the President hasn’t kept; rather I aim to highlight the results of political inaction in France.
We are approaching the end of March 2019 and already 35 women were killed by abusive partners or ex-partners since January in France, according to Nous Toutes. (The count rose by 4 during the writing of this article.) The French government doesn’t seem to know or simply care, as they have remained silent about the situation. The “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) are in their 18th striking week, gaining attention by defacing or destroying significant sites in Paris: from graffiti on the Arc of Triumph to breaking vitrines on the Champs Elysees, they are occupying political space to fight in response to Macron’s Green Tax. These are people from rural areas who work in Paris and can’t afford the increasing price of the fuel. However, the protest about the Green Tax has turned into a list of 42 demands, from increasing the minimum wage to ending homelessness to writing a new constitution. Although some of the demands seem fair and reasonable, the sheer number of requests is unrealistic. The government has been forced for the past 18 weeks to focus on the yellow vests’ requests to ease the situation, which has diverted their attention and action from other important matters: namely, the lives of women.
In 2017, Macron declared gender equality would be the grand cause of his five-year term. In 2018, the President labeled as a grande cause nationale the Fédération Nationale Solidarité Femmes (an organization fighting violence against women). This was meant to highlight the importance of gender equality for the French government and show that there was going to be a change in the way women’s rights are treated. No effort is too small to make a difference, right? The trick is, putting a label on a problem does not translate to impact. It seems to me that the President wishes to soothe tensions by giving people a placebo: naming gender equality the grande cause makes citizens believe change is taking place, but without the creation of policies it is merely a label, giving the appearance of action to quiet the masses until the next crisis.
Macron had also mentioned a few measures focused on domestic violence. Among them was an app for victims of violence (the purpose of the app remains a mystery); a hotline for women to report violence, harassment, or discrimination; and better preservation of related evidence in hospitals. Those policies address the consequences of the problem rather than the cause, but still they could have benefits, if only they were implemented. But they have not been implemented. Even if they seem weak in light of the severity of the problem, we don’t know if these measures could have already saved lives, as none of them have come into being. It would appear that France’s “feminist” President is not truly cued into the urgency of this matter; his policies in relation to the violence against women should have been – and should be in the future – a priority.
The government has not been completely inactive, however, as other policies have seen the light of day. The year 2018 mobilized women as they gained wide media coverage about the question of sexual harassment with the#balancetonporc movement (the French equivalent of #MeToo). This movement spurred the French government to outlaw sexist comments and street harassment. In addition, France announced last November a country wide education program to fight against sexism. The latter is yet to be implemented and very few details have been released. It nevertheless holds significant promise: education – and the lack of it — is at the core of the problem. For once a policy that will take direct aim at the causes of sexism and gender inequality!
When it comes to France, people often find me unforgiving and severe. Perhaps it is due to the fact that as an international student in the USA, my identity is partially defined by my nationality and I would like to feel proud about it. I don’t know about being unforgiving or severe; I try to be objective. Considering France is the sixth most powerful country in worldwide, they have the means and the responsibility to make the necessary changes. French people have a bad habit of looking eastward and saying, “Well at least we don’t do that…” That attitude has to go. The truth is, with the resources available we haven’t been proactive about what matters. I am sick of French people telling me that France’s political situation is better than that of other countries, as if to excuse our government’s bad behavior. It isn’t better; it’s just different.
I am trying to be fair here, but I think it is time to stop making excuses for countries with resources and power. If you have the means to make a change, not only about women’s rights but also about climate change, immigration, war and other burning subjects, then you should already be taking action. Pushing back policies about violence against women for already two years is too long and wholly unacceptable. As the government is stalling and trying to please the yellow vests, women are dying. It should have been a priority but clearly it isn’t for Macron and his Secretary of Gender Equality. It is time for the French president to stop being passive. This is a call for action, Mr. Macron.
Alice Marie Ghislaine Aparicio is a graduate student in Fashion Studies at Parsons, undertaking a certificate in Gender and Sexuality. She has a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Marketing and Branding from the Nottingham Trent University.