The district, whose streets are usually lined with large groups of young men of African and Arab origin, is located around La Chapelle metro station on the border of the 10th and 18th arrondissements in the northeast of the French capital.
The current row over the alleged no-gone zone echoes a controversy widely reported by French and foreign press late last year, when a bar in the Paris suburb of Sevran was accused of being one of many public places in the area where women were effectively banned.
Now the issue has moved almost into the city centre.
The demonstration on Friday, organised by SOS La Chapelle, a group of local residents and shop owners, aimed to highlight growing concern over harassment of women around the metro station and along the Rue Pajol and other streets in the rundown district that is dominated by an overhead metro line.
“The problems in the area are real. It is aggressive and you see men fighting in the streets. Women do not feel safe,” Clare Rougy, one of the dozens of women who turned out for the demo, told The Local.
Another woman said her 17-year-old daughter was so scared that she got on her mobile phone to her mother the moment she arrived at La Chapelle metro station and stayed on it until she got safely to her nearby home.
Local resident Babette de Rozieres, a candidate for the right-wing Republicans party in next month's parliamentary elections, said in a speech to the protestors that she had lived for many years in what had long been a pleasant and quiet neighbourhood, but that in recent months it had rapidly gone downhill.
Paris mayor promises action
SOS La Chapelle on Friday morning launched a petition on change.org demanding the Paris authorities urgently do something about the harassment, drug-dealing and street crime plaguing the area.
By Friday evening, by which time the petition had gathered nearly 2,500 signatures, Paris city hall issued a statement saying it was aware of the acute problem of harassment there, even if it did not believe the area to be a no-go zone for women, and that action was being taken.
“We will not tolerate an area being prey to acts of discrimination against women,” said Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.
“That does not correspond to the values of Paris nor of the Republic. I wish to inform local residents that we are entirely at their side and that our action will not falter until the situation returns to normal,” she said.
The city hall said more police had been deployed to the area, which lies just north of the Gare du Nord Eurostar terminal, as a temporary measure while longer term solutions were being examined.
A young female reporter from The Local when walking around the area on Friday experienced catcalling. But while there were many large groups of men on Rue Pajol, at the centre of the so-called “no go zone”, the atmosphere at the time was calm and unthreatening.
When the same reporter went into Café Cyclone, which protestors say is one of many local bars or cafés where only men go, the reaction was one of surprise but again, not aggressive.
Counter-demo blames anti-immigrant sentiment
Women and men at a counter-demonstration held at the same time as the SOS La Chapelle protest claimed that the issue of feminism was being used to hide what in reality was an anti-immigrant drive.
“The majority of people in the area behave well — this is a witchhunt on immigrants,” Alice, 40, told The Local, without wanting to give her last name. “It is a complete manipulation of the truth.
Zeynab, a woman working in the area, agreed.
“I have to come here everyday and if I didn't feel safe I wouldn't do it. This is a lie made up by the press and right-wing politicians,” she told The Local.