and Sylvie Corbet
PARIS: First there was Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who allegedly referred to women as “material,” then catcalls in the French Parliament just because a female government minister wore a floral dress.
But when this month the French agriculture minister — in an interview about promoting gender equality — suggested that women couldn’t get their heads around technical jobs, that was too much.
The prime minister of France — a country that produced feminist icons such as Joan of Arc and Simone de Beauvoir — has decided that his ministers need to go back to school for anti-sexism classes.
On Jean-Marc Ayrault’s orders, the Equality Ministry has set up a series of 45-minute gender equality “sensitization sessions,” during which ministers are being trained to identify sexism in daily life and taught how to avoid sexist stereotypes in political communication.
Organizers told the Associated Press that it’s a full class, with all 38 ministers signed up or in the process of registering. In the interest of gender equality, the female ministers are going, too.
The goal, said organizer Caroline de Haas, is that ministers take time to think about sexism. “If you’re not vigilant, de facto inequalities are created,” she said.
De Haas said 80 percent of politicians interviewed on French TV and radio broadcasts are men. She said she wants to fight against the “illusion” that France “has almost achieved equality” between men and women. France is now trailing in an unimpressive 48th place on the Global Gender Gap equality list.
Earlier this month, in an interview with L’Express magazine, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll sparked controversy by saying: “I’ve tried to promote women as much as possible, even though some of our dossiers are very technical.”
Though Le Foll said his words were taken out of context — given that the interview was on the subject of gender equality — they nevertheless caused outrage and went viral on Twitter.
As far as the public is concerned, sounds like some ministers need instruction.
“I’m not proud, but it’s good [the lessons are] happening,” said Nicolette Kost, 33, in central Paris. “After all, at such a high level in French government nonsexist attitudes should just come naturally.”
The lessons are “positive... since France is so far behind other European countries,” said Edwige Bernard, 57.
Some ministers have already taken the training, which includes a slide show, such as Labor Minister Michel Sapin and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira. Taubira’s office declined to comment about the minister’s training.