When France’s new Sexual Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa visited an area of northern Paris notorious for women being harassed on the street, it seemed a good idea.
That was until she publicised her under-cover trip on Twitter with photos designed to show there were no “no-go areas for women” in France.
Critics accused her of staging the visit and playing down the problem.
Her photos were quickly deleted and were blamed on a public relations slip.
However, French media had already captured the pictures, which showed Ms Schiappa walking alone in a dress past a group of men on a central street in the north-eastern area of La Chapelle-Pajol.
Accompanying the images was the message: “The Republic’s laws protect women and apply every hour of the day and everywhere.”
Ms Schiappa is new to national politics and one of President Emmanuel Macron’s rising stars from civil society. Before joining his centrist party, she was best known for setting up a network of working mothers and was deputy mayor of the city of Le Mans.
Last month, La Chapelle-Pajol hit the headlines when local women took to the streets to protest that their area was becoming a no-go area for women.
A group, SOS LA Chapelle, launched a petition under the title: “Women, an endangered species in the heart of Paris.” They said the main square and nearby streets had become men-only zones.
French junior minister in charge of gender equality Marlène Schiappa arrives at the Elysée Palace for a cabinet meeting in Paris, France, 24 May 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Marlène Schiappa is one of the president’s new stars to join the government from civil society
Paris authorities have acknowledged the “strong feeling of insecurity” in the area, amid complaints of drug-trafficking and pickpocketing, as well as intimidation and harassment.
With France in the midst of an election campaign, the issue became political and critics suggested that the campaign had become caught up in anti-immigrant sentiment. The area has a large immigrant population and Porte de la Chapelle, a short distance away, has become home to migrants living outside in poor conditions.
‘She demands a medal’
After the photos were taken down, her office issued a statement (in French) setting out the local groups Ms Schiappa had met and detailing her efforts to tackle sexual discrimination in La Chapelle. She had visited the area anonymously on Monday and would return at a later date.
Centre-right politician Pierre Liscia was unimpressed, complaining of an “appalling attitude” that treated local women with contempt and ridicule. The only point of her night-time visit had been to show that nothing was wrong in the district.
A number of others took to social media to criticise the minister’s trip.
“Marlène Schiappa walks around for five minutes in Pajol without being harassed and demands a medal,” one person wrote on Twitter.
“Her mistake was to tell everyone who felt attacked and insulted that they’d dreamt it all up,” complained another.
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