PARIS — The French National Assembly adopted legislation late Monday that characterizes sex between adults and minors under 15 as rape, a move made after years of debate and rounds of sexual abuse scandals gradually pushed lawmakers to bring the French criminal code closer to that of most other Western countries.
“Children are off-limits,” France’s justice minister, Eric Dupont-Moretti, told the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, ahead of the vote on Monday. Under the bill, a sexual relationship with a minor under 15 would be punishable by 20 years in prison, unless the age gap between the consensual partners were small.
The bill, which also includes a provision that would make incest a specific crime,will go to the Senate this month and is expected to get final approval in April. The incest ban would also apply to sexual relationships between children under 18 and their step parents.
That lawmakers agreed on setting an age of consent only three years after having voted against a similar law largely reflects the impact of a series of recent sexual abuse scandals.
fall from grace of a writer who for decades openly engaged in and promoted pedophilia with the support of powerful friends and amid accusations of incest against a prominent French intellectual that surfaced in January.
Fresh allegations of sexual abuse against powerful figures in politics, the arts and the media that fueled new #MeToo movements have also increased pressure on the French government to take action.
“There has been a real shift in the public opinion and an awareness that there is a problem with these sexual violence cases,” said Pierre Verdrager, a sociologist who has studied pedophilia, adding that France had become highly aware of these issues.
Feminists have also contributed to this change in attitude, Mr. Verdrager said, and raised public awareness by speaking out against sexual abuse in the arts and papering Paris with posters denouncing domestic and sexual violence.
French law already prohibited sex between an adult and a minor under the age of 15, but it was not automatically considered rape. Further circumstances, such as the use of coercion, threats, or violence, were necessary to characterize such sexual relationships as rape.
toughened laws against sex crimes and extended the statute of limitations for rape against a minor to 30 years from 20 years, but lawmakers had stopped short of setting an age of sexual consent, citing legal complications.
Some lawmakers, following warnings from France’s Constitutional Council, were worried that setting an age of consent would automatically criminalize sexual relationships between a minor under the age of consent and a person only a few years older. The council reviews legislation to ensure it complies with the French Constitution.
In response, the new bill includes a “Romeo and Juliet” clause that would allow for sexual relationships between a children under 15 and an adult up to five years older. This clause would not apply in rape or assault cases.
“I do not want to put a kid aged 18 on trial because he had a consenting relationship with a girl of 14-and-a-half,” Mr. Dupond-Moretti said.
Alexandra Louis, a French lawmaker supporting the bill, said that the provisions that had been added to bill, such as the Romeo and Juliet clause, gave her hope that the measure would be approved by the Constitutional Council.
Some 300 amendments were discussed but the bill eventually passed unanimously and in one day. Ms. Louis said that the bill had “reached a consensus” and marked “a historic breakthrough.”
The legislation also extends beyond 30 years the statute of limitations for rape of a minor in cases where the adult has raped others, and introduces jail sentences of 10 years and a fine of 150,000 euros, or about $180,000, for anyone convicted of inciting children under the age of 15, via the internet, to commit sexual acts.
“Our task is huge,” Mr. Dupont-Moretti said. “It’s about changing the law to finally, completely and totally protect our children.”
Perhaps it was because pandemic lockdowns have left women clinging to whatever is left of their access to public space. Perhaps it was because after more than three years of the #MeToo movement, the police and society are still telling women to sacrifice their liberties to purchase a little temporary safety.
It all came to the surface when 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared as she walked home in London on March 3, was found dead a week later, after doing everything she was supposed to do. She took a longer route that was well-lit and populated. She wore bright clothes and shoes she could run in. She checked in with her boyfriend to let him know when she was leaving. But that was not enough to save her life.
So the response from British women to reports that the police were going door to door telling women in the South London neighborhood where she disappeared to stay inside for their own safety became an outpouring of rage and frustration.
@metpoliceuk really do want women off the streets don’t they?” Anne Lawtey, 64, wrote on Twitter after organizers announced the cancellation of the gathering. She was shocked, she said in a telephone interview, that it had been shut down. “We can’t have a vigil? People standing still, in a park, wearing masks?”
A huge crowd turned out anyway, carrying candles and bouquets, crocus bulbs in glass jars and flats of pansy seedlings to add to the pile of blooms.
With no audio equipment, women climbed on the Victorian bandstand that had become a makeshift memorial and used an Occupy Wall Street-style human microphone: The crowd repeated what was said so that it could be heard at the back.
working paper from Girija Borker, a researcher at the World Bank, found that women in India were willing to go to far worse colleges, and pay more tuition, in order to avoid harassment or abuse on their daily commutes to classes. The impact of that “choice” on one woman can be hard to measure — but among the thousands she documented in her research, it can be expected to have an effect on earnings, economic power and social mobility.
wrote on Twitter, adding, “4pm. New Scotland Yard.”
The editor in chief of Bild, Europe’s largest newspaper and an influential force in German politics and society, has taken a leave of absence while a law firm conducts an investigation into accusations made against him, the publication’s owner said.
Julian Reichelt, the editor, denies accusations of misconduct, Axel Springer, Bild’s publisher, said in a statement. Springer said it had no “clear evidence” of misconduct, but had hired the law firm Freshfields to investigate the accusations. It did not specify what they were.
The accusations were first reported by the magazine Spiegel, which cited half a dozen female employees who had worked for Bild and complained of coercion by Mr. Reichelt. Spiegel did not name the female employees. The magazine said the women accused Mr. Reichelt of abusing his position of authority and creating a hostile work environment but did not provide further details.
“To make sure that the investigation process can be seen through to the end undisturbed, and the editorial team can work without further burdens,” Springer said, Mr. Reichelt “has asked the Axel Springer board to release him from his functions until the accusations have been clarified.”
powerful men brought down by accusations of misconduct against women have been relatively rare.
Germany and most European countries protect the identities of accused people in legal proceedings, making it more difficult for the media to report about cases of harassment.
Courts have often been unsympathetic. In 2019, a French court ordered the leader of the country’s equivalent to the #MeToo movement to pay damages to a former television executive she had accused of making salacious and humiliating advances to her.
With a print circulation of 1.2 million, Bild is Europe’s largest newspaper, but like most publications has suffered steep declines in print readership. In 2011, daily print sales averaged 2.8 million, according to the newspaper’s website, and that was down from 4 million in 1965.
opinion pieces. He had lately railed against what he said was the German government’s mismanagement of the pandemic crisis. He complained earlier this month that the authorities fined joggers for not wearing masks while federal and state governments bungled the rollout of vaccines.
Axel Springer, Bild’s parent company, is one of Europe’s most prominent media firms. Springer also owns Welt, a German daily newspaper; the online news site Business Insider; and Politico Europe. KKR, the private equity firm, owns 36 percent of Springer shares and holds three seats on the company’s nine-person supervisory board. Friede Springer, widow of founder Axel Springer, remains a major shareholder and a member of the board.
Springer said in a statement on Saturday that the investigation involving Mr. Reichelt would include “an evaluation of the credibility and integrity of all parties involved.”
The publisher added: “Prejudgments based on rumors are unacceptable for the Axel Springer corporate culture.”
The abduction and death of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard has unleashed a torrent of concern over women’s safety in London and the rest of the U.K., with thousands of women recounting their own stories of harassment in a fresh upsurge in support for the #MeToo movement.
Ms. Everard went missing after leaving a friend’s apartment in south London on March 3, triggering a police search across southeast England. On Friday, police confirmed that remains found in a wooded area southeast of the capital were hers and that a postmortem examination was under way. An officer with London’s Metropolitan Police has been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murder.
The case has struck a nerve in Britain, in part because Ms. Everard had done many of things women are often advised to do to ensure their safety.
She wore bright, visible clothing when she left her friend’s apartment at 9 p.m. for a journey home that should have taken 50 minutes at most. She had called another friend to say she was on her way. And she had stuck to well-lit main roads. Yet she was abducted—and, investigators suspect, by a policeman.
Many women have shared their own experiences of being harassed or feeling unsafe walking city streets.
Some described wearing comfortable shoes in case they had to break into a run or pretending to be engaged in a loud phone call to deter potential attackers. Others told how wedging keys between their knuckles had become second nature, so as to inflict as much damage as possible if they needed to strike out in hopes of buying enough time to get away safely.
Author Julie Cohen said on Twitter that she once had to switch trains because of three seemingly ordinary middle-aged men who had begun to harass her. “We can’t tell which men are safe because even the ones who are supposedly safe feel enabled to humiliate us for fun,” she wrote.
Fern Brady, a Scottish comedian, recalled wondering what age she needed to reach before she could stop worrying about getting murdered for being a woman. The answer, she said she realized, was “never.”
UN Women, a United Nations agency, released a survey this week that found that some 70% of women and girls in the U.K. had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces and urged the government to do more to combat the problem. Among the findings, only 3% of women aged between 18 and 24 said they hadn’t experienced any sexual harassment. It is also a global issue, UN Women said, reporting that in some cities around the world, almost nine out of 10 women feel unsafe in public.
A group called Reclaim the Streets planned a vigil for Ms. Everard in London on Saturday evening. Similar gatherings were planned elsewhere in the country, despite police warnings that they would contravene Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Opposition Labour lawmaker Harriet Harman was one of many people who said she would attend, though it is unclear whether the event would still proceed.
“When the police advise women, don’t go out at night on their own, women ask why do they have to be subjected to an informal curfew?” Ms. Harman told Parliament earlier this week. “It is not women who are the problem here, it is men.”
Andrea Leadsom of the ruling Conservative Party said she was angered that women walking home in the dark have to feel scared if someone else is walking closely behind them.
Labour lawmaker Rose Duffield alluded to the months of Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice that spread around the world after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis last year.
“Sarah Everard has reignited the fire within us much like George Floyd did—enough is enough,” Ms. Duffield said.
Some politicians have suggested that men be subjected to a curfew. While British government ministers quickly played down the idea, Welsh government leader Mark Drakeford said he wouldn’t rule it out if circumstances dictated it was necessary. He later dismissed the possibility.
Meanwhile, anger is building toward London’s police for attempting to prevent Saturday’s vigil going forward, and for the revelation that the officer in custody on suspicion of abducting Ms. Everard had been arrested separately for an alleged indecent exposure in a fast-food restaurant three days before she disappeared.
Several lawmakers have asked the vigil be permitted to occur without any consequences for organizers, who have told those participating to wear face masks and observe social distancing.
The Reclaim the Streets group that suggested the event tried to persuade the High Court in London to allow the vigil to proceed without any legal repercussions. The court rejected their challenge and refused to intervene.
ISLAMABAD—Two years ago a Pakistani singer sent shock waves through the music industry and set off the country’s most high-profile #MeToo debate when she accused a fellow pop star of groping her. Now she is being prosecuted on a criminal defamation charge and is facing possible prison time.
Meesha Shafi has appealed the sexual harassment case she brought to the country’s Supreme Court, after losing a series of legal battles in which judicial authorities ruled that her case isn’t covered by a law meant to protect women in the workplace.
The criminal defamation charge was brought by the authorities after a complaint from the pop star she accused, Ali Zafar. If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.
Supporters of Ms. Shafi say her legal battles could affect the willingness of women to come forward with sexual misconduct allegations, and the result of the legal fight would define who is covered under a law designed to protect women from harassment in the workplace.
The harassment case “will decide on the scope of the law for keeping women safe in the workplace,” said Khwaja Ahmad Hosain, a lawyer who is representing Ms. Shafi at the Supreme Court. “The outcome will be important for all women in this country.”
Pakistan has a separate law that is designed to protect women from harassment outside of the workplace, but it requires women to report incidents to the police, which they are often reluctant to do.
Mr. Zafar, who denies he groped Ms. Shafi, hasn’t been charged with any crime. He says her accusations have damaged his career. “By the time I prove my case, the damage will be irreparable,” he said. “It already is, in many ways.”
By many measures, Pakistan ranks as one of the toughest places in the world to be a woman. Women face high rates of domestic and sexual violence, economic inequality and forced marriage, according to a report published in 2019 by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent advocacy organization.
A 2020 index by the World Economic Forum, tracking gender disparities in areas including economic opportunity, educational attainment, health and political empowerment, ranked Pakistan 151st out of 153 nations. A 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Pakistani campaigner for girls’ education Malala Yousafzai, but girls still make up the majority of the children in the country who don’t go to school.
More from Pakistan
There have been very few #MeToo accusations in Pakistan, a deeply conservative society. A march in the capital, Islamabad, on March 8 for International Women’s Day was guarded by rings of police, after attendees were attacked last year by stone-throwing men who were incensed by their slogan, “My body, my choice.” The marchers were accused in an online campaign this year of blasphemy, based on a misinterpretation of a banner, a dangerous and often lethal charge to make in Pakistan.
Government officials say they are making progress on women’s rights, while acknowledging there remains much to do. In December, the government instituted a new rape law—which needs to be approved by Parliament to become permanent—aimed at speeding up convictions and toughening sentences. A law passed last year strengthened women’s property rights. The government says a program to give a monthly income supplement to the poorest families helps women.
In January, the top court for Punjab province banned the use of virginity tests in rape cases there. The results of those tests were often used by the defense against the accuser, either as evidence against the rape allegation if the woman was found to be a virgin or as evidence she likely consented if she was found to be sexually active. The provincial court judge said the tests had no scientific basis and unfairly cast suspicion on victims.
Ms. Shafi’s allegations rocked Pakistan’s small but vibrant pop music industry and elite social circles when they first emerged. In a tweet in April 2018, a day before she was due to work alongside Mr. Zafar as a judge in a music talent show, she alleged that Mr. Zafar had touched her inappropriately.
“If this can happen to someone like me, an established artist, then it can happen to any young woman and that concerns me gravely,” Ms. Shafi tweeted.
Ms. Shafi says Mr. Zafar groped her more than once, but her sexual harassment case centers on an encounter in December 2017 at a recording studio in his house, where they were rehearsing for a concert. She says he groped her during the session.
Mr. Zafar denies that he groped Ms. Shafi and noted the two went on to perform together at the concert.
After Ms. Shafi’s accusation, others came forward on social media with their own accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Mr. Zafar.
Mr. Zafar, who denies behaving inappropriately with any of the accusers, says he was dropped as a judge on the show after Ms. Shafi’s accusation and he has stopped getting sponsorships from multinational companies. He said that he made a criminal complaint to stop what he called a smear campaign online, which he said turned him into the poster boy for the #MeToo movement in Pakistan.
He has also brought a civil defamation case, seeking damages of more than $6 million, against Ms. Shafi.
Ms. Shafi first took her complaint to the provincial ombudsperson and then to the provincial governor, following the process laid out under the workplace harassment law. Both ruled that the law didn’t cover her case.
She then went to the top court in their home province of Punjab, which threw out Ms. Shafi’s case against Mr. Zafar without examining the allegations, saying the workplace harassment laws didn’t apply as Ms. Shafi was only working on a short-term contract and for an events management company, not for Mr. Zafar. The court said that if Ms. Shafi were deemed an employee in this case, then men might stop hiring women under such contracts.
“It would have such an unpalatable effect that perhaps no person (male) would be expected to enter into a contract to provide services for fear of prosecution under the law,” the court statement said, specifying men parenthetically.
Prosecutors brought a criminal defamation charge against Ms. Shafi under new laws that restrict speech on the internet, which have also been used by the authorities to prosecute journalists and human-rights activists. Authorities also charged eight others who made allegations against Mr. Zafar on social media. Ms. Shafi was the only one who filed a formal complaint under the workplace harassment law.
Since the charges have been brought, one of Mr. Zafar’s accusers has retracted her accusation and apologized. He subsequently asked prosecutors to drop her from the case, which they did. The woman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Shafi’s lawyers say they plan to challenge the use of the criminal defamation law in the top provincial court in Punjab. They say using it to prosecute Ms. Shafi will discourage others from coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations.
“It’s a rigged system,” said Ms. Shafi. “Which woman has got justice in a case of this nature and at what cost?”
While Mr. Zafar says the accusations have affected his career, he has continued to receive plaudits from the country’s top politicians. This month he is scheduled to receive the Pride of Performance award from the president of Pakistan, the country’s highest accolade for achievement in the arts. Last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan named him as a brand ambassador for the university he founded in his political constituency before taking office.
“I only wish to emphasize that every society in the world holds art and artists in high esteem, and looks up to them to be good role models, so does the Pakistani society,” said Shibli Faraz, the government information minister. He declined to comment on the court cases.
Ms. Shafi, who is currently in Canada, will seek the court’s permission to give testimony via a video link. However, because she returns to Pakistan for her work, the criminal case does pose a risk of arrest, said Saqib Jillani, a lawyer for her.
“Who’s going to come forward in future, if powerful men can do this to those who speak up?” said Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a Pakistani documentary filmmaker who has won two Oscars, for her films on women suffering acid attacks and honor killings in Pakistan.
LAGOS, Nigeria — During the biggest demonstrations in Nigeria’s recent history, 13 women came together to support their fellow citizens risking their lives to march against police brutality.
The women were all in their 20s and 30s. All at the top of their fields. Many had never met in person. They found one another through social media months before, and named their group the Feminist Coalition. They jokingly called themselves “The Avengers.”
“We decided that if we don’t step in, the people who suffer the greatest will end up being women,” said Odunayo Eweniyi, a 27-year-old tech entrepreneur and a founding member of the Feminist Coalition.
repeatedly been voted down by Nigeria’s male-dominated Senate.
And then there’s the matter of being proud feminists, in a country where the word feminist is commonly used as an insult.
For years, identifying as a feminist in Nigeria has been fraught. The coalition’s decision to use the word in the organization’s name, and the female symbol in their yellow logo, was pointed. Many of the protesters benefiting from their assistance were men — and not all of them had been supportive of women’s rights.
Ms. Ovia, 27, co-founded a company with friends in 2016 that aims to try to make sure that health care across Africa is driven by data and technology. The company, Helium Health, has helped hospitals and clinics set up electronic medical records and hospital management systems.
She said she hadn’t expected the work of the Feminist Coalition to be so serious, supporting protesters as they risked their lives to try to change a police system that brutalized young people.
“I thought it was going to be a lot more fun than this, let me not lie,” she said, laughing. “I thought we’d meet up, we’d drink, we’d bitch about men. We’d do some work. I didn’t know that lives would be threatened.”
a 2019 interview about Wine and Whine.
“Oh!” replied the host, sounding taken aback by her use of the word.
“We’re very feminist,” she responded, laughing. “Your reaction tells me that feminism is perceived as this bad thing.”
history of feminist movements, identifying as a feminist is seen as radical.
Ms. Eweniyi recently got tattoos of her favorite equations: Schroëdinger’s equation, the golden ratio, and the uncertainty principle.
She’s working to reduce uncertainty in Nigerian women’s lives.
The savings app start-up that Ms. Eweniyi launched in 2017, called Piggyvest, tackles one of the main problems the Feminist Coalition has identified — financial equality for women. The idea is that people should be able to save and invest even small amounts of money. It has more than 1 million customers — men and women.
tweeted Fakhrriyyah Hashim in February 2019. “You are done getting away with monstrosities against women.”
Her tweet kicked off northern Nigeria’s #MeToo movement. In it, Ms. Hashim coined the hashtag #ArewaMeToo — Arewa means “north” in Hausa, a West African language spoken by most northern Nigerians.
In a highly conservative region with what Ms. Hashim, 28, has called a “culture of silence,” #ArewaMeToo unleashed a deluge of testimonies about sexual violence. When it spilled off social media and into street protests, the Sultan of Sokoto, the highest Islamic authority in Nigeria, banned it.
Another campaign Ms. Hashim launched, #NorthNormal, pushed for Nigerian states to apply laws that criminalize violence and broaden the definition of sexual violence.
Her women’s rights activism has brought her death threats and abuse. Now, she’s put some distance between herself and the people behind those threats, having taken up a fellowship at the African Leadership Centre in London.
An estimated two-thirds of Nigerian girls and women do not have access to sanitary pads. They can’t afford them.
Karo Omu, 29, has been fighting to get pads and other sanitary products to Nigerian girls for the past four years. She focuses on girls in public schools who come from low-income families, and girls who have had to flee their homes and are living in camps.
There are 2.7 million internally displaced people in northeastern Nigeria as a result of the violent and uncontrolled insurgency waged by the Islamist group Boko Haram and its offshoots. And for many women and girls living in the camps, it is a struggle to get enough food and clothing, let alone expensive sanitary pads.
Her organization, Sanitary Aid for Nigerian Girls, hands out reusable pads, bought with money crowdfunded by Ms. Omu and her colleagues, so that girls have one less thing to worry about. Some of the girls they’ve helped had never had a pad before.