French Cabinet to get anti-sexism education
French Economy, Finance and Trade Minister Pierre Moscovici (C) is surrounded by members of the government. Housing Minister Duflot (below) was the victim of catcalls in the Parliament when she wore a flowered dress. REUTERS photoFrance’s prime minister has decided that his ministers need to go back to school for anti-sexism classes, as the Equality Ministry has set up a series of 45-minute gender equality “sensitization sessions,” during which ministers are being trained to identify sexism in daily life and how to avoid sexist stereotypes in political communication.
Organizers told The Associated Press that it’s a full class, with all 38 ministers registered or in the process of doing so. In the interest of gender equality the female ministers will also attend. The goal, said organizer Caroline de Haas, is for ministers to take time to think about sexism. “If you’re not vigilant, de facto inequalities are created,” she said.
De Haas said 80 percent of politicians interviewed on French TV and radio broadcasts are men. She said she wants to fight against the “illusion” that France “has almost achieved equality” between men and women. France is now trailing in an unimpressive 48th place on the Global Gender Gap equality list.
In an interview with L’Express magazine earlier this month, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll sparked controversy by saying, “I’ve tried to promote women as much as possible, even though some of our dossiers are very technical.” Though Le Foll said his words were taken out of context, given that the interview was on the subject of gender equality, they nevertheless caused outrage and went viral on Twitter.
Some ministers have already taken the training course, such as Labor Minister Michel Sapin and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira. Taubira’s office declined to comment on the minister’s training.
The course’s slideshow includes statistics on gender inequality in France and points out how gender stereotypes are instilled in French children from an early age. One example de Haas noted was that in stores, clothes for 18-month-old children are marked “pretty” and “cute” for girls but “brave” and “cunning” for boys.
The anti-sexism training initiative comes rather unsurprisingly from Sweden, a country that tops the Global Gender Gap report list on gender equality. In Sweden, toys are often unisex and one Swedish kindergarten – in order to discourage gender stereotypes - has even forbidden and discouraged children from using the words “he” or “she.”
Catcalls for dress
Under Prime Minister Alain Juppe in 1995, no one blinked an eye when French media patronizingly named his 12 female ministers the “Jupettes.” In July, French Housing Minister Cecile Duflot was the victim of hooting and catcalls for the entirety of her speech in France’s National Assembly when she wore a blue and white flowered dress. The whistles and heckling did not come from an unruly crowd but from male legislators, who later said they were merely showing their appreciation on a warm summer’s day. Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn reinforced the sexist stereotype and tarnished the image of French male politicians after he admitted conducting orgies and reportedly referred to women as “material” when planning for them.
French President François Hollande, whose partner is one of the only working French first ladies in recent years, has made equal gender representation in government a key part of his election manifesto. Half of his Cabinet members are women. This summer, the Socialist-led Parliament pushed
through legislation that made anti-harassment laws in France more robust.