Street harassment in France: what are we doing?

Street harassment in France: what are we doing?

Street harassment in France: what are we doing? 

In the past years, many have spoken up against street harassment on a global scale. In New York, the feminist non-profit Hollaback appeared in headlines after releasing a video of a young woman experiencing constant sexual harassment from her male counterparts. Watched online over 40 million times, the video was instrumental in increasing coverage and awareness of street harassment globally. A few months after the Hollaback campaign, the clothing company Feminist Apparel reinvested the streets of New York with giant traffic signs reading ‘No Catcalling anytime’. These are crucially needed to challenge gendered divisions of public space, starting with women’s realisation that they don’t have to accept harassment.

The conversation is not only happening in the United States. Not too far away in Brazil, Juliana de Faria also decided she had enough, and launched Chega de Fiu Fiu (‘Enough with the cat calls’ in Portuguese), a map to record incidences of street harassment in the streets of Sao Paulo.

In the United Kingdom too, women are also slowly re-negotiating public space, if not thanks to the Laura Bates’ three years old Everyday Sexism website, a platform for women to share daily experiences of sexism, or more recently Transport for London’s latest campaign against harassment on public transports.

But what exactly is happening in France? As pleased as I am to see attitudes are slowly evolving elsewhere, it makes me quite sad that, in one of the European countries scoring the lowest on gender inequality, not much has changed. France is in no doubt the one country in Europe where I feel the most uncomfortable in the streets.  In Paris, not only does catcalling start at a very young age, but women are most often told to silently accept it.

A few weeks ago, the French Council on Equality between Men and Women made the news with unprecedented statistics on harassment in public transports: 100% of female subway users have experienced sexual harassment or catcalling at least once.

100% - quite alarming indeed! But to the Parisian-born woman I am, the number sounds quite right. In fact, following the release of the Council’s statistics, an article in the national newspaper Le Monde gathered numerous stories of harassment to give its audience a little reality check. Reading through the experiences of my counterparts, I was touched by the commonalities of our narratives. We had all blamed ourselves, changed the way we dress, or made sure we adopted a ‘low profile’ in the streets to avoid the daily inconveniences of harassment. And most sadly, we all felt incredibly lonely doing so.


Aware of the alarming character of the Council’s statistics, France’s minister of social affairs Marisol Tourraine assured the government would take drastic measures to guarantee women’s protection in public space. But as much as I hope I will one day be able to walk the streets of Paris freely, it will surely take more than a law to change attitudes towards a too often normalised behaviour.


Lucile Stengel comes from Paris and currently lives in London, where she pursues a career in cultural insight. In her spare time, she is a media officer at Lensational, a non-profit aiming to empowering women through photography. Her experience with Lensational has given her a broad understanding of women empowerment issues in the developing world, and a passion for writing about social change. In addition to writing for Her Culture, Lucile is a writer contributor at Just A Platform, a collaborative newspaper based in London.

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