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Girls & Women

France's Gender Equality Minister Wants to Criminalize Sexual Harassment on Streets

New French deputy minister in charge of Equality Between Women and Men Marlene Schiappa leaves after the first weekly cabinet meeting under new French President Emmanuel Macron, Thursday, May 18, 2017 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Christophe Ena/AP)

Catcalls. Leering looks. Unwelcome and unwanted suggestive whispers.

Those are some of the forms street harassment takes around the world, all-too-common occurrences that at least one French leader is now trying to bring to an end.

French Secretary of Gender Equality Marlene Schiappa has announced a proposal to criminalize sexual harassment on the street and institute strict punishments for offenders, according to NPR.

France passed sweeping sexual harassment laws in 2012 that banned the practice in the workplace and for children under age 15, but omitted street harassment, according to NPR.

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“You don’t have to follow girls on two, three streets and ask her 20 times [for] her phone number,” Schiappa told NPR. “[Harassers] say, ‘Oh, but it’s my right. I’m just chatting and talking with that girl. I’m making a compliment.’ They don’t understand.”

Schiappa, who at age 34 is the youngest cabinet member of President Emmanuel Macron, was an author and blogger before being appointed to the government position.

She told NPR that as a young teen she realized that walking to school or to the supermarket suddenly seemed like an open invitation to men to follow them, catcall them, and even grope them — a fate she wants to protect her 10-year-old daughter from experiencing.

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"We took alternative routes, out of our way to avoid the bands of boys,” she said. “Our body belongs to us. It doesn’t belong to men. And we have to say it louder: Our body, our rules.”

Schiappa hopes to criminalize sexual harassment so harassers are fined “on the spot,” she said, and then move onto other women’s issues, including closing France’s gender pay gap, sexist advertising, and laws preventing lesbians and single women from having in-vitro fertilization covered by their health plans.