was born in Paris in 1982 to two academics. Her mother was a local school teacher and principal–her father, a professor of history. She studied communications at university and worked in advertising after graduation. Frustrated with balancing work and home life, she quit her job and started the blog Maman Travaille (Mom Works). The blog touched on feminist issues and quickly grew to a community of over 10,000 readers. She then authored multiple books on the subjects of maternity, parenting, and balancing work and family.
In 2014, she entered politics as the deputy mayor of Le Mans, her childhood suburb. Now, she is the youngest member of Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet. Macron, France’s newly elected president, appointed her as his Secretary of Gender Equality, and she’s taking it upon herself to alleviate the country’s sexual inequalities.
Sexual Harassment in France
In 2012, the French government passed a law that severely cracked down on sexual harassment in the workplace. The law makes inappropriate gestures, comments, and non-consensual contact punishable with jail time and fines up to €30,000. Many saw the law as a step towards improved gender equality.
But Marlene Schiappa thinks the law does not go far enough. She believes France espouses a culture of misogyny that disregards female perspectives. “It’s not women who don’t speak, but society which does not listen to them,” Schiappa attests. She even has the statistics to support her claims. According to her department’s office, 15 percent of French women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes.
In order to address sexual harassment in France more thoroughly, Schiappa took the fight to the streets. Back in June, she introduced a proposal for legislation that would make street harassment punishable by a maximum fine of €5,000 fine. Schiappa defended the bill in an interview with RTL. “It’s completely necessary because at the moment street harassment is not defined by law,” she stated. “[Women] cannot currently make a complaint.”
Opponents of the proposal have questioned what sexual harassment looks like, but secretary Schiappa believes this should be obvious. She cited such examples as women being followed while walking down a street or men asking “for [their] number 17 times.”
“We know very well at what point we start feeling intimidated, unsafe or harassed in the street,” she holds. Parliament will vote on the bill in the coming year.
The Future of Gender Equality in France
This proposal is only a stepping stone on the longer road to complete female equality. Schiappa believes that “the symbolic value of laws that outlaw street harassment is very great,” and she hopes that this legislation will lead to other advancements in equality.
For Schiappa, the next step is fixing France’s pay gap. French men make on average 12-27% more than French women, but President Macron recruited Schiappa to alleviate this problem.
“I think not everyone is fighting for gender equality,” Schiappa says. “So there is a political fight, an ideological fight.”
So far into Macron’s presidency, it’s a fight that feminism and its proponents are winning. Women now hold 40% of the seats in parliament, and half of Macron’s cabinet consists of women.
Women are making significant gains under France’s new leadership, but according to Schiappa,“there’s a lot of work to be done.”