Prevention of violence against women is a red-flag issue. In January, the lower house of parliament – the Assemblée Nationale – unanimously adopted a bill providing emergency financial assistance for women forced to leave home because of conjugal violence. Under the proposed legislation, already voted by the upper house, the Caisse Nationale des Allocations Familiales will grant an interest-free loan payable in installments to any “victim of violence committed by their spouse, cohabitant, or civil partner.” Hailed as a significant advance for financially dependent women, the bill will return to the Senate for a second reading and should become law in the coming months.
This is just one of the legislative initiatives taken to tackle violence and abuse against women, which President Emmanuel Macron announced as one of his government’s major national causes when he came to office in 2017. At the time, the global #MeToo movement was at its height and had spawned similar initiatives in France. One in particular garnered nationwide and international attention: the provocatively named #BalanceTonPorc (“Squeal on your pig”), which allowed women to publicly denounce instances of sexual harassment and violence. What set this movement apart was that victims were encouraged to name their attackers. But despite greater public awareness, instances of often-fatal violence multiplied.
Faced with growing social anger, the Macron administration took significant steps to demonstrate a commitment to act. In 2019, it organized a three-month consultation that culminated in a prevention and protection program comprising 46 measures. These included the provision of emergency accommodation, sensitivity training for law enforcement personnel, and easier procedures for women to report assaults if hospitalized or prevented from leaving home. Provision was also made for training school teachers and students to identify and report family violence.
The program was reinforced in 2020 following a sharp spike in domestic attacks during the first Covid lockdown. An audit conducted in August 2021 by an official monitoring committee found that 76% of the programmed measures had been implemented and the remainder were in progress. Since then, however, a number of observers and organizations, including the feminist collective #NousToutes, have expressed deep reservations about the efficacy of the action plan and the budget allocated to it. On its website, #NousToutes reiterated its longstanding demand for better funding and framework legislation.
Indeed, violence against women has been a significant concern for decades. According to the Haut Conseil à l’Egalité entre les Femmes et les Hommes, an independent consultative body on gender equality, the number of assaults and fatalities continues to rise. In its fifth annual report, published in late January, this High Council on Equality between Women and Men describes the situation as alarming: 2021 saw a 21% year-on-year jump in the number of reported victims of intimate-partner violence and a 20% rise in “conjugal femicide,” which claimed 122 victims. The report concludes that, despite undeniable progress on women’s rights, including several high-profile female appointments in national politics, France is still a sexist society. “Sexism is not decreasing in France,” it warns. “On the contrary, some of its most violent manifestations are getting worse, and the younger generations are the most affected.”
Despite – or because of – the scale of the problem, action is being stepped up at every level. In addition to the government’s measures and initiatives by NGOs, many municipal authorities have set up coordinated response units, opened shelters and “safe spaces,” and organized awareness campaigns for women receiving unwanted attention at public venues. Action at grassroots level, though less publicized, is equally effective. Bakeries in a village in southern France are distributing baguettes in bags bearing the emergency-assistance number for reporting mistreatment, and a “violence meter” to identify aggressive or harmful behaviors. Whether all these initiatives will make a lasting difference remains to be seen.