Saturday, June 25

Macron accused of betraying pledge to stamp out violence against women | France

Equality campaigners have accused Emmanuel Macron of betraying his promise to stamp out violence against women and girls after the French government kept in place a new minister accused of rape by two women.

Feminist groups led by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics organized a street demonstration in Paris on Tuesday against what they called a “government of shame”, after Damien Abad, the minister for solidarity and people with disabilities, remained in his job despite the rape allegations.

Abad has denied the accusations, including one from a woman who said that in 2010 she blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from him and woke up in her underwear in a hotel room with him. Abad said his disability from him – arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints – meant he was incapable of sexual assault.

The government spokesperson Olivia Grégoire said on Tuesday combating violence against women and girls would be a priority for Macron’s second term, just as it was in his first. She said Abad would stay in government and it was up to the justice system to establish the truth.

But campaigners warned the majority of rape and sexual assault cases in France were dropped by prosecutors. One of the women who accused Abad had her case dropped by prosecutors, which she contested. The other had not filed an official complaint, but prosecutors are looking into the case.

The row over Abad, a rightwing politician who recently joined Macron’s centrist movement, has overshadowed the first days of the new government, which is led by Élisabeth Borne, France’s first female prime minister in more than 30 years.

Madeline da Silva, co-founder of the Observatory on Sexist and Sexual Violence In Politics, who informed senior figures in Macron’s party about the allegations against Abad before his appointment, said he should not be in government.

“For the simple reason of setting an example, and sending a message to women who are victims of sexual violence, Mr Abad should not have been made a minister,” she said. “Don’t tell us that no one knew… We reported this in writing to senior political figures who, by chance, now say they didn’t see the emails. There is an obligation in French labor law to protect people at work … By keeping Mr Abad, the government is not fulfilling its responsibility to protect the people who work with him.”

Da Silva said Borne had her work overshadowed because her first cabinet meeting “featured someone sat at the table who was accused of sex crimes. Is that really the way to support women in politics?”

Da Silva cited the case of François de Rugy who quit as French environment minister during Macron’s first term, after allegations he hosted lavish, taxpayer-funded lobster dinners as parliament speaker. She said De Rugy had not been under police investigation when he quit. She said the message was “lobsters are more serious than rape”.

Borne has said she did not know about the accusations against Abad until the investigative website media part ran an article about them at the weekend. “Who can imagine for a single instant that the president, Emmanuel Macron, and the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, did not know?” said Xavier Bertrand, the head of the Hauts-de-France region.

Earlier this month, there was outrage when Macron’s centrist party initially stood by a parliamentary candidate in Dordogne who had been convicted of domestic violence. Jérôme Peyrat was found guilty of violence against his former partner in September 2020.

But La République En Marche’s leader, Stanislas Guerini, told France Info radio that despite the conviction, Peyrat “is an honest man, I don’t think he is capable of violence against women”. Guerini later apologized and Peyrat stood down as a candidate. Guerini was appointed to government as a minister a few days later.

In 2020, Macron’s decision to appoint Gérald Darmanin as interior minister – despite accusations of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of power – drew heavy criticism and prompted demonstrations. Darmanin this month kept his job in cabinet after Macron’s re-election. He has denied wrongdoing and prosecutors in January asked for the case to be dropped.

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