On a Monday through Friday night, between coronavirus closings and curfews, Camille, Natacha, and Cindy come out with a bright yellow plastic bucket of glue, two large paintbrushes, and a wad of A4 paper, each sheet covered in a single letter. .
The women, all in their twenties, stop on the main street of this Paris suburb along the wall of what looks like an old bank.
“This is good,” says Camille. It is the sign of a well-practiced choreography: Natacha hits; Camille picks up each letter sheet; Cindy hits it.
They back off. The message, in black letters on white paper, is clear: “Stop street harassment “ (stop street harassment).
Another wall, another message. Outside the municipal swimming pool is hitting, hitting, hitting: “Lconsent is not an option”(Consent is not optional). At a kiosk under the awnings of the local market, glue, slap, glue: “Stop feminism “.
Then he gets up and walks out of there to avoid a € 68 fine if caught by the police. Another successful, albeit illegal, hit-and-run poster.
For the past two years, similar messages have appeared on the walls throughout Paris, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Poitiers, Lyon, and other French cities. They are the work of Les Colleuses – the hitters – feminist activists who have found a simple, cheap and effective way to make women’s voices heard.
Camille Lextray became glue after the particularly brutal murder of a young woman in September 2019 . His partner denies his murder.
“Her name was Salomé and she was only 21 when they beat her to death. The police had been called, but they treated her as a domestic and did nothing. Later, his body was found under a pile of garbage. We put a collage on the anniversary of her death at her mother’s request, ”said Lextray.
The idea of street signs to highlight cases of femicide was devised by Marguerite Stern, a former member of the feminist activist group FEMEN. Stern, then living in Marseille, was deeply shocked by the 2019 murder of Julie DouibA 34-year-old mother of two, shot and killed in her home by an abusive ex-partner.
Douib had reported the man to the police five times before his death, but no action was taken. Stern began putting up posters denouncing violence against women in Marseille and later moved to Paris, where she created a collage collective.
In the early days they were called “Collages against Femicides”(Collages against feminicide), with groups that paste the names of women murdered by their current or former partner. The street action captured the imagination of women everywhere and spread even beyond France.
“Suddenly, we had people from all over the place contacting us.” Camille says. “At last count, more than 200 cities, towns and villages in France had collage groups in London and in more than 15 countries around the world.”
“Anyone can get involved. It takes 10 minutes to write a slogan on a piece of paper, it doesn’t take a lot of money or resources. It is extremely important for women. It is about daring to occupy public space, about women leaving their mark in public.
“A mother had suffered spousal violence and she painted the messages with her young son, went out and pasted them. It is taking back control of our lives and it is liberating. No more secrets, no more shame, no more silence. We have built our own media platform. This is our speaker. “
France has one of the highest femicide rates in Europe. In 2019, 146 women were murdered in France by a partner or ex-partner. More than 40% of the victims had already suffered violence at the hands of their partner and almost half of them had reported it to the police.
The term femicide is sometimes defined as the murder of women by men, but in France it generally refers to the murder of a woman by her partner, ex-partner or relative.
In 2020, the number of femicides in France fell to 90 in the year, the lowest since those statistics began to be collected 15 years ago. But Caroline De Haas, who founded the feminist collective NousToutes in 2018, said that even if the numbers fell, “almost 100 deaths is no reason to celebrate.”
An estimated 200,000 women in France experience domestic violence each year, but fewer than one in five go to the police and the problem has worsened during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Natacha said.
A hotline for women victims of violence established by the government was received. 45,000 calls during the first three-month shutdown last year.
“Nobody was prepared for the confinements,” Natacha said. “We are holding on [posters] for us and for the victims and to raise the issue with a wider audience. By doing so, we hope to be educating people on the issue of violence against women and minorities and creating an atmosphere for change. “
The group is fiercely critical of what it sees as paid lip service by the Macron government on the issue. “We were full of hope: they said they would fight sexism and make it a great cause. But it was words and inaction and nothing has changed, ”said Natacha. “We have lost confidence in politicians. We are disappointed. We have to change the psychology of patriarchy.
The government responded to the clamor for alarming levels of femicide in 2019 with new legislation that includes 40 emergency measures such as electronic bracelets to prevent violent abusers from approaching their victims.
Critics say the rules, which took effect last July, are being implemented too slowly.
Marlène Schiappa, a minister in the Interior Ministry, was the country’s Minister of Equality. She told The Guardian that combating violence against women was a government priority.
“Of course there is progress to be made in France in terms of women’s rights. The issue remains a priority for the government. We must always do more while there is violence, ”said Schiappa.
Data compiled by Eurostat, the EU statistics office, for 2017 suggested that Romania and Northern Ireland had the highest number of women killed in partners as a percentage of the population. But in terms of femicides overall, Eurostat found that Germany and France had the worst records. According to the UK census of femicides, a woman is killed by a man who is or was her intimate partner every four days and the rate of fatal violence against women in Britain has shown no signs of abating since the organization began monitoring in 2009.
Finland, often praised as a country where equality is protected, also has a high murder rate of women, suggesting that values expressed in the public sphere do not always coincide in private life.
De Haas cautions against national comparisons because different definitions of femicide can create a misleading picture.
Eurostat is coordinating an EU-level survey on gender-based violence, the results of which are expected in 2023.
De Haas welcomed the signs that the French police were intervening more during the confinement in cases of violence against women: “Even a murdered woman is an extra woman, but I am optimistic,” he said. “Things have never moved so fast and in every way. Society moves. There is resistance, but those who resist are increasingly a minority ”.
NousToutes recently respondent 100,000 women in heterosexual relationships and found that eight in 10 said they had suffered physical or psychological violence during sexual intercourse, and more than half said they had been forced to have sex at least once. Three-quarters of the respondents were under 35 years old and almost half under 25.
A EU level survey In 2014, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the first of its kind in the bloc, ranked France at the same level as the UK, with 44% of respondents saying they had suffered physical or sexual violence.
The collages movement split last year after Stern co-authored an opinion piece advocating the idea of biological sex. Death threats followed and Stern was excluded from the movement she had founded.
Camille was one of Stern’s main opponents. “Marguerite Stern is no longer part of the movement. Today we have expanded our themes to protest against violence against minorities and women, against racism, homophobia, transphobia and migrants, ”he said.
De Haas said that patriarchy was the source of all social violence. “We need to combat not only violence against women and children, which is inherent in the economy and in our social and political systems. All violence has the same roots: male domination: patriarchy ”.
“The main victims of sexist and sexual violence are women and children, but there are also other victims. We are a society of domination: men against women, blacks against whites, rich against poor, and this inequality leads to violence.
“There are many reasons why France is behind on this, but … the violence suffered by women and children sucks wherever it happens.”
Among the many and varied posters in the streets to highlight the victims of femicide in France, there is a particularly chilling message that appears regularly: “We are the voice of those women who no longer have it.”
In the UK, call national domestic abuse hotline on 0808 2000247, or visit Help for women. In Australia, national advisory service on family violence is 1800 737 732. In the United States, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found through www.befrienders.org
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism