Paris: President Emmanuel Macron announced an initiative Saturday to address violence and harassment against women in France, with plans aimed at erasing the sense of shame that breeds silence among victims and changing what he said is France's sexist culture.
In a speech at the Elysee presidential palace marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Macron laid out a plan to encourage women to take action, strengthen laws against offenders and educating citizens on the issue — starting from nursery school.
He said that 123 women died of violence against them in France last year. Holding a moment of silence for them, he said: "It is time for shame to change camps."
However, abuse against women isn't confined to the home, Macron stressed, noting that violence takes on other forms, notably in the workplace, a result of inequality and a false sense of men's superiority.
The issue of workplace sexual abuse has gone front and center with an onslaught of revelations in the United States and Europe after sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein went public.
"What should be sanctuaries today becomes a hunting ground simply because (men) can use ... age, authority, their post, or simply force," the French president said.
Nonetheless, Macron cautioned that he doesn't want France to become a society where every interaction between a man and a woman to come under suspicion.
"We are not a Puritan society," he said.
Among proposed measures, Macron said legal complaints will be rushed through the system, and the statute of limitations for suspected sexual crimes against minors would be moved to 30 years from 20 currently as part of a bill to be presented in 2018.
Macron also wants to rectify "intolerable ambiguities" in the penal code surrounding the legal age of consent, a subject that has drawn outrage after a ruling in an assault case that an 11-year-old was of the age of consent. He suggested the age of 15 — the legal age of sexual adulthood in France, and the age at which Macron met his future wife, Brigitte, his school drama teacher.
To encourage more women to speak out, Macron said that from the start of next year, an online alarm system will be set up for instant contact with police. Officers would also be working with new special hospital units for battered women, so complaints can be filed.
As part of Macron's plan, work doctors that traditionally check the health of employees will make the possibility of violence, harassment or discrimination a priority.
Nursery school teachers will be trained to address "non-negotiable" equality between the sexes in what Macron said is a battle to create deep cultural changes that must begin in early life.
French audiovisual authorities will be asked to regulate internet videos or video games to go after content that could lead to violence against women, notably pornography.
Macron said violence against women is most often committed where women "should feel protected" — be it at home, in the street or in the office — and the "deafening silence" must end.