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France's new government now has a ministry that's devoted to gender equality. It's led by a young author and blogger known for her frank writing on sex and sexism. NPR's Joanna Kakissis met her in Paris.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Paris is known for its architecture, its art, its old-world beauty. But France's new Secretary for Gender Equality Marlene Schiappa says the city of light can often be a dark place for women. She's confronted men who catcall, harass, even grope women.
MARLENE SCHIAPPA: You don't have to follow girls on two, three streets and ask her 20 times her phone number. They say, oh, but it's my right. I'm just chatting and talking with that girl.
KAKISSIS: The only way to deter these men, she says, is to criminalize sexual harassment on the streets. She says offenders should be fined thousands of euros on the spot.
SCHIAPPA: Our body belongs to us. It doesn't belong to men. And we have to say it louder, our body, our rules. (Speaking French).
KAKISSIS: We're talking in Schiappa's grand, light-filled office in central Paris. There are papers stacked on her desk, along with a tiny knit purse belonging to her 10-year-old daughter. Unlike most French politicians, Schiappa grew up in public housing in a working-class Paris neighborhood.
SCHIAPPA: I'm able to understand that what ordinary people are living. I know what it is to have a lack of money. I know what it is to count how much money you have in order to feed your family.
KAKISSIS: She worked in advertising but made her name as a writer and blogger, becoming a national spokeswoman for working moms. And at 34, she's the youngest member of President Emmanuel Macron's cabinet and one of the most criticized. In an office on the other side of Paris, financial analyst Norah Memran explained why.
NORAH MEMRAN: She is a woman. She is young, and she's out loud. Who likes that, right? I do (laughter). I like it 'cause girl's power.
KAKISSIS: At a cafe in a hip neighborhood, law student Philippine Laprade says Schiappa's forcing a conversation that maybe some men don't want to have.
PHILIPPINE LAPRADE: Obviously I don't think the problem is men going to women and say, oh, like, I found you cute. Can we have a drink or something? That's not offensive. The problem is men thinking they're entitled to yell at a young woman saying like, oh, hey, you, you have a fine ass.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in French).
KAKISSIS: Women even took to the streets to protest harassment in the working-class neighborhood of La Chapelle just north of Paris. Back at her office, Schiappa says some men don't seem to know what's off limits.
SCHIAPPA: If you go to the street and you say, is it allowed or is it forbidden to touch a girl's body on the street, I'm sure many people will say, oh, it's not that bad.
KAKISSIS: But she says attitudes have been shifting over the last few years, especially since the high-profile sexual assault trial of former International Monetary Fund Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Men convicted of sexual assault are now barred from holding elected office. And President Macron has also tasked Schiappa with going after companies that pay women less than men.
SCHIAPPA: I think not everyone is fighting for gender equality. So there is a political fight, ideological fight.
KAKISSIS: And since this June's elections, that fight could be more successful, since women now make up half of the cabinet and nearly 40 percent of parliament. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Paris.
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