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SCHOOLS

French launches €14m ‘only yes means yes’ campaign on sexual consent

France's higher education ministry has launched a €14 million campaign around sexual consent, teaching students to seek explicit consent for any sexual encounter under the slogan 'sans oui, c'est interdit' (without a yes, it's forbidden).

French launches €14m 'only yes means yes' campaign on sexual consent
A protester raises her fist in front of a poster reading 'There is a taste of rape when I'm studying at the university' during a demonstration on March 6, 2021. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

The campaign is hoping to teach students to: “Ask explicitly and look for an enthusiastic yes; Get into the habit of posing simple questions like ‘Do you want to?’ ‘Can I?’ ‘What do you like?’ and ‘What do you want us to experience together?’; Listen to the other person; Respect his or her desires and own limits; and finally, Accept No.”

Other prevention actions for the 2022 school year will include training sessions for dedicated anti-assault units in most of France’s universities. So far, over 900 teachers, students, and staff across the country have been trained. 

Ahead of week-ends d’intégration – or welcome weekends at the start of the school year, which are known for festivities and higher consumption of alcohol amongst the student body – posters with the new slogan “Without a ‘yes,’ it’s off limits” (Sans oui, c’est interdit) appeared across campuses in France to help educate students about consent.

Sylvie Retailleau, the Minister for Higher Education, stressed the importance of such actions in an interview with daily Le Parisien.

The minister explained that about “149,000 students in France are affected by sexual assault or attempted assault” each year. 

According to Retailleau, that number represents approximately four percent of the total student body (for higher education) in France.

With the annual budget doubling from €1.7 to €3.5 million per year, Retailleau intends for associations, such as the “National Association for Student Athletics” (Anestaps) to receive more grant money to help sexual assault prevention.

The consent awareness campaign will also partner with websites like Konbini to reach students online. Informative videos with advice and testimonies from students, as well as a consent quiz (consentest) will be posted across social media to help educate young people across the country.

Additionally, Anestaps will set up “safe spaces” during onboarding festivities and welcome weekends, to ensure that students who have been harassed or feel unsafe have a place to go to and a secure person to speak with.

The organisation will also use the ‘angel shots’ system during school events. Students who feel unsafe can order a fake drink at the bar and trust that the person behind the counter will understand it as code for needing help.

Schools will also set up investigation units, which will be free, confidential, and available to victims. The goal will be to encourage victims to file complaints, as well as to collect testimonies and reports. The units will offer students with legal, medical and psychological assistance.

Despite previous actions by the State to combat sexual assault in France’s universities, the problem has persisted. As a result, in 2021, the Ministry of Higher Education launched the multi-year plan (running until 2025).

The program was given a total budget of €7 million, which has now been doubled to €14 million.

The plan includes 21 measures, several of which were already taken up this past year. The steps are structured around four primary areas: widespread training of staff and students to respond to sexual assault, the reinforcement of reporting mechanisms, communication campaigns to spread awareness about consent and reporting mechanisms, and finally the promotion of student and staff commitment to combat sexual assault and gender-based violence on campuses.

In June, the public prosecutor’s office for Evry (Essonne) told AFP that it had opened several investigations for rape in the four major French universities of the area, including the renowned establishments of Polytechnique and Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), after receiving “several complaints” of sexual assault.

Sexual assault in France is defined as “any forced sexual contact” and it is punishable by 5 years of imprisonment and a €75,000 fine (Article 222-27 of the Penal Code)”

Neighbouring Spain has recently passed a ground-breaking ‘only yes means yes’ law on sexual consent, meaning that consent must be affirmative and cannot be assumed to have been given by default, or by silence. 

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STRIKES

French Prime Minister Macron doubles down on pension age as strikes loom

France's prime minister on Sunday ruled out backtracking on a plan to raise the retirement age as unions prepared for another day of mass protests against the contested reform.

French Prime Minister Macron doubles down on pension age as strikes loom

An increase in the minimum retirement age to 64 from the current 62 is part of a flagship reform package pushed by President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the future financing of France’s pensions system.

After union protests against the change brought out over a million people into the streets on January 19, the government signalled there was wiggle room on some measures, including the number of contributing years needed to qualify for a full pension, special deals for people who started working very young, and provisions for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children.

But the headline age limit of 64 was not up for discussion, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Sunday.

“This is now non-negotiable,” she told the FranceInfo broadcaster.

While unions have welcomed the government’s readiness for negotiation on parts of the plan, they say the proposed 64-year rule has to go.

Calling the reform “unfair” France’s eight major unions, in a rare show of unity, said they hoped to “mobilise even more massively” on Tuesday, their next scheduled protest day, than at the showing earlier this month.

“Even more people”

“It’s looking like there will be even more people”, said Celine Verzeletti, member of the hardleft union CGT’s confederation leadership.

Pointing to opinion polls, Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said that “the people disagree strongly with the project, and that view is gaining ground”.

It would be “a mistake” for the government to ignore the mobilisation, he warned.

Unions and the government both see Tuesday’s protests as a major test.

Some 200 protests are being organised countrywide, with a big march planned for Paris, culminating in a demonstration outside the National Assembly where parliamentary commissions are to start examining the draft law on Monday.

The leftwing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s allies are short of an absolute majority in parliament and will need votes from conservatives to approve the pensions plan.

The government has the option of forcing the bill through without a vote under special constitutional powers, but at the risk of triggering a vote of no confidence, and possibly new parliamentary elections.

In addition to protest marches, unions have called for widespread strike action for Tuesday, with railway services and public transport expected to be heavily affected.

Stoppages are also expected in schools and administrations, with some local authorities having already announced closures of public spaces such as sports stadiums.

Some unions have called for further strike action in February, including at commercial ports, refineries and power stations.

Some observers said the unions are playing for high stakes, and any slackening of support Tuesday could be fatal for their momentum.

“They have placed the bar high,” said Dominique Andolfatto, a professor for political science. “They can’t afford any missteps.”

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