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ABUSE

French activists tell stories of sexual abuse and rape at major student union

Sixteen activists from France's second biggest student union have come forward to tell stories of rape, sexual harassment and abuse that they have suffered within the organisation.

French activists tell stories of sexual abuse and rape at major student union
A student waves a flag during a demonstration in 2010 in front of the French Senate in Paris. Photo: AFP
The women spoke of incidences of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape occurring between 2007 and 2015 at UNEF for an article in left-wing French daily Libération
 
The exposé comes just a few months after 83 female members of UNEF signed an open letter in Le Monde denouncing the sexual abuse and violence within the organization. 
 
One of the more shocking testimonies is the story of an activist who accuses a “member of the union leadership who joined the UNEF in the mid-2000s” of raping her in La Courneuve, a working class banlieue to the north of Paris in September 2014 during the annual festival, Fete de l'Humanité. 
 
“I was planning to bunk with another female activist but he invited himself in,” she told Libération. 
 
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“He was hoping to be able to have sex with both of us” but the second woman quickly fell asleep, she said. 
 
“He told me that he had the right to a blow job which I refused. He began to push my head down. I refused again. He pushed harder and harder. Again, I pushed back. So he put his hand in my knickers and forced a kiss on me and kept going for several minutes.”
 
The man in question, who has since become a journalist, has denied the claim, saying that she went along with it “willingly”. 
 
However the same woman said he raped her a second time in June 2016 in Paris. 
 
According to press reports she filed a complaint in January.
 
Another woman, a former girlfriend of this official, also claimed to have been raped by him in July 2014 and “is preparing” to file her own complaint.
 
The article reveals an organization where young women activists were the target of insistent pressure, notably under the presidency of Jean-Baptiste Prévost between 2007 and 2011. 
 
“It is important that the omerta is lifted,” the current president of UNEF, Lilâ Le Bas told the French press. “I give my full support to the women who denounce the violence they have suffered in the organization.”
 
The further revelations about UNEF come at a time when women around the world, including in France, have been coming forward to denounce the aggressors in their lives as a part of the Me Too movement that continues to spiral after the wave of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017.
 
 
 

FEMINISM

Strike calls in France on International Women’s Day

Men and women are being called on to finish work at 3.40pm on Monday to highlight the gender pay gap, one of many actions and demonstrations taking place around France to mark International Women's Day.

Strike calls in France on International Women's Day
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Several organisations and unions are calling for a strike to denounce pay inequality.

“On March the 8th, we will be on strike along with women all over the world to refuse to pay the price of the crisis with our jobs, our salaries, our bodies,” several unions including the CGT, FSU and Solidaires said in a press conference.

The objective is to denounce the gender pay gap that continues to impair women’s rights, but also to denounce the unfair burden that the past year’s health crisis has put on women.

“The lockdowns have been very heavy burdens on women for the past year, whether it’s in the health, work or home environments, increase in domestic violence. Not to mention the large amount of predominantly female jobs that have continued to maintained a level of normality during the lockdown,” the co-secretary general of FSU, Murielle Guilbert, told Les Echos.

The below map shows the actions planned around the country on Monday.

In Paris, a demonstration will start in Port-Royal at 1pm and move towards the Place de la République.

Organisations including Osez le féminisme, Les Effrontées and Unef have called women as well as men to go on strike on Monday from 3:40pm, in order to denounce the gender pay gap.

For a full list of actions around the country, click here.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised by a junior minister for having only one woman among his closest advisers.

“I told him ‘Mr President, you are not giving a good example,” Elisabeth Moreno, a junior minister in charge of gender equality, told French media on Sunday.

She declined to say how the 43-year-old reacted, but she praised him for making gender equality a public priority and for ensuring balanced governments throughout his time in office.

Every cabinet since Macron came to power in 2017 has featured equal numbers of men and women, although both prime ministers have been male and the majority of the top cabinet jobs are currently held by men.

Macron has also been criticised for appointing Gérald Darmanin as his interior minister – the man nominally in charge of the country’s police force – while he is under investigation for rape.

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