(AP) Hoots in parliament: France mulls harassment law
By LORI HINNANT
The hooting and catcalls began as soon as the Cabinet minister stood, wearing a blue and white flowered dress. It did not cease for the entire time she spoke before France’s National Assembly. And they came not from an unruly crowd, but from male legislators who later said they were merely showing their appreciation on a warm summer’s day.
Cecile Duflot, the Housing minister, faltered very slightly, then continued with her prepared remarks to the Assembly.
The same French Assembly on Tuesday is expected to take up a new law on sexual harassment, more than two months after a court struck down the previous statute, saying it was too vague and failed to protect women. In the meantime, there has been nothing. All cases that were pending when the law was struck down May 4 were thrown out. And, without a law, there were no new cases.
The new legislation will extend to cover offences in universities, in the housing market and job interviews, and is intended to punish single acts of sexual blackmail as sexual harassment _ previously only covering repeated acts. The government, keenly aware of the lack of protection since the May 4 court decision, has pressed for a quick vote. It has already passed the Senate.
But in a culture where hissing at women on the street is considered a sign of approval and sexual banter is often a workplace norm, Guenifi said the law could be a hard sell for women under pressure to keep their jobs in a difficult economy. Especially coming from the same group of lawmakers who last week disrupted a normally routine presentation from government ministers.
Guenifi said the reaction to Duflot in the July 17 Assembly session was disappointing, but unsurprising.
Duflot – who came under criticism after wearing jeans to her first Cabinet meeting this year – said she was shocked at the reaction last week in the Assembly.
One of the male deputies was unrepentant, denying the outburst was intended to be offensive: “We weren’t booing or whistling at Cecile Duflot. We were admiring,” Patrick Balkany, of the opposition UMP, told the newspaper Figaro. “It’s possible to look at a woman with interest without it being machismo.”
A female UMP deputy was more perturbed by the outburst.
The new sexual harassment law, which was passed by the Senate last week, is supposed to address problems in France that many say have been going on for as long as women have been a big part of the workforce. It sets three levels of harassment, with the most serious punishable by three years in prison. Among the circumstances that merit the most severe punishment: if the harasser has authority over the victim, if the victim is younger than 15, or if multiple people carry out the harassment.
Guenifi listed acts that would draw the most lenient, one-year punishment, including repeated gestures, discourse, or other sexually suggestive actions intended to create a hostile or intimidating environment.