French feminists protest 'sexist' reaction to IMF arrest

22nd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Around 500 people turned out in Paris on Sunday for a protest by feminist groups against a wave of sexist commentary generated by IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest.

Strauss-Kahn, who had been favourite to win next year's French presidential election, was charged with sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted rape in New York last week after an alleged assault on a hotel maid.

While he was pilloried abroad, in France many of his supporters took to the airwaves, blogs and newspaper columns to defend him, attack US justice and, in some cases, to question the integrity of the alleged victim.

"The problem is not what happened in New York, but the tide of sexism that followed it," declared Caroline Haas, president of "Dare Feminism" and one of the organisers of the event.

"We are all chamber maids," declared one of the banners unfurled in front of Paris' iconic Pompidou Centre gallery complex. "No means no!"

The feminists' anger was turned on male commentators in the media -- one magazine editor dismissed the attack as "touching up the help" -- and on a wave of off-colour online jokes on social networking sites.

More than 15,000 people have signed the feminists' petition, including several French politicians.

Speaking in Toulouse on Sunday, socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal said women were not "objects" and must be respected.

"I think it starts with education, girls and boys need to be taught to respect one another," Royal said.

Protest organisers say 75,000 women are raped in France every year, and only one in ten make a complaint, fearing they will not be protected or taken seriously in France's "macho" society.

"The presumption of innocence is inalienable, but so too is the presumption of truth of the plaintiff's statement," said journalist Audrey Pulvar.

© 2011 AFP

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