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Read: a scathing manifesto from 17 French women politicians sick of sexual harassment

Christine Lagarde
Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, is one of the women who are not going to take it anymore.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

French women in government have had enough. They're tired of sexual harassment, whether from their colleagues at work or from strangers on the metro.

They're infuriated by the seemingly endless parade of male colleagues accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, from politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn's alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid in 2011 (settled out of court) to the recent resignation of the deputy speaker of parliament after women accused him of groping them.

In a blistering manifesto published Sunday, 17 female politicians, including Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said they're not going to take it anymore.

"This time, it's too much," they wrote in a "Statement Against Sexism." "The omertà and the code of silence are no longer possible":

We were cabinet ministers, we are or have been elected representatives. And like all women who entered environments that were previously exclusively male, we had to put up with and fight against sexism. It’s not up to women to adapt themselves to these environments, it’s the behavior of certain men that must change.

You cannot say to a woman, no matter her position, whether she is an employee, a student, a homemaker or a female representative in government, about her colleague, "Other than her magnificent breasts, what does she look like?" You cannot say with a salacious air, "Your skirt is too long, you’ll have to shorten it," or "Are you wearing a thong?"

You cannot say to a woman who is publicly talking about a rape in the Metro, "That wouldn’t happen to you."

You can’t put your hand on a woman’s thigh or squeeze your two hands around her waist without her consent. And when a woman says no, it means no.

Those things have really happened, to the authors or to people close to them. But they emphasized that the issue is much, much bigger: "This happens every day to women on public transit, in the streets, in business, in the universities."

And then they declared "Cela suffit" — "enough":

Impunity is over. We will no longer be silent. We will systematically denounce the sexist remarks, the uncalled-for gestures, the inappropriate behavior. We will encourage every victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault to speak out and to press charges. We ask our parties and our political groups to verify if such acts have been committed, and, if that was indeed the case, to help the victims to make the truth known

The women, who come from parties ranging from the center-right UMP to the French Communist Party, suggest a range of possible solutions, including lengthening the statute of limitations for sexual harassment and assault and encouraging prosecutors to vigorously pursue harassment cases. They also seek better financial compensation for victims by allowing them to pursue damages from both their harasser and their employer, if they lost their job as a result of filing a complaint — something that happens all too often in France, although it's illegal, the politicians wrote.

"Women must be able to work, go out in the street, take public transport, without putting up with inappropriate remarks or gestures," they concluded. "We would love to never have to repeat this. We would have loved to never have needed to write this statement."

Read the full statement below.


We entered politics for varied reasons, we stand for different ideas, but we share the desire that sexism no longer have a place in our society. This plague is not unique to our realm, far from it, but the political world must be an example. Those who write laws, who pass them, and who are charged with enforcing them have the duty to abide by them, and thus to be above reproach.

There was the DSK affair, the "Keep your paws off!" open letter from women political journalists, and, this week, the staggering testimony of four women politicians accusing Denis Baupin of sexual harassment and assault. This concerns every party at every level of power. We therefore take up our pen to say that, this time, it’s too much, the omertà and the code of silence are no longer possible.

We were cabinet ministers, we are or have been elected representatives. And like all women who entered environments that were previously the domain of men, we had to put up with and fight against sexism. It’s not up to women to adapt themselves to these environments. It’s the behavior of certain men that must change.

You cannot say to a woman, no matter her position, whether she is an employee, a student, a homemaker or a female representative in government, about her colleague, "Other than her magnificent breasts, what does she look like?"

You cannot say with a salacious air, "Your skirt is too long, you’ll have to shorten it," or "Are you wearing a thong?"

You cannot say to a woman who is publicly talking about a rape in the Metro, "That wouldn’t happen to you."

You cannot put your hand on a woman’s thigh or squeeze your two hands around her waist without her consent. And when a woman says no, it means no. It’s not worth it to insist or to threaten reprisals.

What we’re talking about has happened to some of us… but that’s not the point.

This happens every day to women on public transit, in the streets, in businesses, in the universities. Enough.

Impunity is over. We will no longer be silent. We will systematically denounce the sexist remarks, the uncalled-for gestures, the inappropriate behavior. We will encourage every victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault to speak out and to press charges. We ask our parties and our political groups to verify if such acts have been committed, and, if that was indeed the case, to help the victims to make the truth known.

According to an investigation by the Défenseur des droits (an independent agency charged with protecting the civil rights of French citizens) published in 2014, during her professional life, one in five women faces sexual harassment. To make things change, we must attack this plague on all fronts: change the mentality in the political world, at work, facilitate prosecutions, encourage health care workers to notice the signs of violence. This work rests on an idée fixe: to better protect victims. Today, the legal tools exist but the laws are not sufficiently enforced. The law protects workers but it is not respected.

Few women press charges and very few complaints end with convictions. Several avenues must be studied: lengthening the statute of limitations for sexual assault, the possibility for others to press charges in the place of victims, the end of the possibility of decriminalizing rape, instructions given to prosecutors to systematically pursue sexual harassment; denoting special officers who are expert in dealing with sexual assault and harassment in police precincts; increasing the resources for investigations to establish whether sexual harassment occurred; and better damages for victims of sexual harassment, both by the people responsible and by their former employers when they were pressured to quit their jobs.

Because in most cases, the women who speak out against sexual harassment de facto lose their jobs. They are thus doubly victims. To fight against this double penalty, we must encourage businesses to know and follow their legal obligation to protect workers and to punish the harasser, whether he is a colleague or a superior.

We must educate the population, break down prejudices and mores, explain ceaselessly what constitutes sexual harassment or assault. Women must be able to work, go out in the street, take public transport, without putting up with inappropriate remarks or gestures. We would love to not have to repeat this, we would have really liked to never have to have written this article.

—Roselyne Bachelot (former minister of health, UMP), Michelle Demessine (former minister of state for tourism, PCF), Cécile Duflot (former minister of housing, EELV), Aurélie Filippetti (former minister of culture, PS), Élisabeth Guigou (former Keeper of the Seals, PS), Chantal Jouanno (former minister of sports, UDI), Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (former minister of ecology, LR), Christine Lagarde (former minister of the economy, UMP), Marylise Lebranchu (former Keeper of the Seals, PS), Corinne Lepage (former minister of the environment, Cap21), Valérie Pécresse (former budget minister, LR), Fleur Pellerin (former culture minister, PS), Monique Pelletier (former special minister on the status of women, UDF), Yvette Roudy (former minister of rights of women, PS), Catherine Trautmann (former minister of culture, PS), Dominique Voynet (former minister of the environment, EELV), Rama Yade (former minister of state for human rights, La France qui ose)