On October 20th, WIL Team - Julia Contrea and Lucie Gabriel was honored to conduct an interview with Laurence Rossignol, the French Minister for Families, Children, and Women’s Rights at her Ministry in Paris. We discussed with the Minister about various subjects, from her personal commitment to gender equality, to the launch of the new joint Action & Mobilisation plan against sexism, but also the situation of women in France and Europe.
The video is in French, but you'll find below an english write-up of the interview.
1. Sexism is a concept widely used in Gender studies nowadays yet rarely defined. What would be your definition of sexism?
The subject of sexism, as it is a core issue for the French Ministry for Families, Children and Women’s Rights, which launched in that regard a joint Action and Mobilisation plan on social media to fight daily sexism, on September 8th, 2016, along with 30 women’s associations. The plan will run for 6 months until March 8th, 2017, which is the International Women’s Day. During these months, the objective is to encourage men and women to speak up against daily sexism, and to share initiatives to fight it with an hashtag: #SexismePasNotreGenre. In view of the elusive definition of sexism, the French Minister started the interview by giving her own: “A set of secular behaviors that bring women back to their conservative roles and prevent them from accomplishing their goals and moving forward”. Sexism is also defined as a set of attitudes that reduce women solely to their sex.
2. The Plan is based on figures and data from the joint CSA-French Ministry for Families, Children and Women’s Rights’ research study: “Perception of equality between men and women in France”. Did any of these figures surprised you or even choked you?
Laurence Rossignol drew two conclusions from the study: First, that the fight for gender equality is far from being over yet, as women are regularly exposed to sexist remarks at their workplaces, and 63% of women and girls modified their behaviours or wore different type of clothes due to fear of sexist attitudes. For young girls (15 - 20 years old), this percentage rises to 72%. But on the other hand, the Minister highlighted encouraging progresses: More and more people call themselves feminists (57% of the respondents and 61% of young girls) and an average of 97% of respondents recognized that women are often exposed to daily humiliations because they are women. Overall, sexism recognition in the public space has increased in the past few years, and led to a larger mobilisation from the civil society to fight against it.
As the Minister pointed out, the joint Action and Mobilisation plan #SexismePasNotreGenreaims to act as a driven force of mobilisation against daily sexism. The plan is supported by more than 30 women’s associations and institutions in charge of labelling the initiatives shared with the hashtag #SexismePasNotreGenre. Combatting gender-based harassment and humiliations requires indeed strong collective commitment from both governments and society.
3. You are known for your strong commitment for gender equality in the French political landscape. Was there a particular event that drove this early feminist commitment ?
Moving the discussion to a more personal level, the Minister talked about how, being raised in an openly feminist environment, she has always been stunned and offended by discriminatory behaviours she witnessed as a young girl. Later, as a college student, she got involved in a feminist group where she led actions for women’s rights. “In those days, humor was our best asset to make our voices heard without being disqualified as “grumpies”. It is still true for the 2000’s feminists. But in the late 70’s we had a lot of fun being feminists, because we wouldn’t let anything go.”
4. In regards to the recent events in Pologne ( attempts to limit the aborption' rights by the government), do you think that women's rights in Europe are now being challenged / threatened?
The Minister gave a nuanced response: Citing the well known French feminist Simone de Beauvoir, she cautioned that women’s rights have always been controversial in Europe, and therefore are staying under threat in the context of economic, political, and social crisis. But Laurence Rossignol also reminded that the attempt to restrict abortion’s right in Poland has faced a major resistance all over Europe. There are two driven forces concerning women’s rights in Europe: on a one side, there are existing antifeminists movements that try to undermine the granted rights, but on the other side there is a strong mobilisation from the society to keep fighting for these rights.
4. What are your Ministry's top priorities in regards to women's rights in the next months/ years?
The Minister recapped the top three priorities of her Ministry in regards to women’s rights: Sexism, that should be combatted to allow existing laws to be properly applied, gender equality at work, to allow women to access financial independence, and gender-based violence. In this last category, Laurence Rossignol also included the “rape culture” that contributes to trivialize behaviours of sexual harassments in western countries.