Press review (Dis)Equality

Yes to abortion, no to Depardieu. Law versus practice

The Gérard Depardieu scandal in France, the abortion question in Europe, the Marcin Kącki case in Poland: are women’s rights only raised when they’re politically convenient? Our press review, with Display Europe.

Published on 23 January 2024 at 16:02

The debate, which began in 2023, is expected to conclude on 5 March. Pending the approval of three-fifths of parliament members, abortion will be enshrined in the French Constitution – a world first, as Libération's Marlène Thomas reports. This is a key symbolic move in the current context, following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to abolish the federal right to abortion. The very point of the reform is to make it extremely tough to repeal the law, which will become a matter for constitutional reform.

While abortion is legal everywhere in Europe, it is sometimes a purely formal right. In Italy, for example, it is practically impossible to have an abortion in some regions, as Annalisa Camilli explains on Internazionale, due to the high number of conscientious objectors. Then there are the cases of Poland and in Malta, where abortion is possible only in case of rape, or when the mother's life is at risk. (OpenPolis has produced an overview of abortion rights in Europe).  

Back in France, even though the text speaks of "guaranteeing the freedom" to have an abortion, feminists would prefer the text to specify the "right to abortion", as Juliette Bénézit explains on Le Monde. Still, the bill remains a major step forward, which President Emmanuel Macron has extensively bragged about: "The rights of women are always a fragile conquest," he has said, quoting the lawyer Gisèle Halimi to whom the battle to legalise abortion in France is owed.

Renaud Dély at FranceInfo wonders if this is more of a political move: "Mitterrand will be forever associated with the abolition of the death penalty, Giscard with the decriminalisation of abortion, and Hollande with marriage equality. So far, Macron has accomplished only one reform of such scope: granting equal access to medically assisted procreation methods, a move which was postponed several times and handled with extreme caution. The president [...] is trying, before it is too late, to produce another story without taking too many risks. According to IFOP, almost 9 out of 10 French people are in favour of including the right to abortion in the constitution."

As in Italy, it is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to access abortion in certain regions of France, as Romain Imbach et Assma Maad tell in Le Monde. In the last 15 years, 130 public family planning centres have closed due to spending cuts. In the last ten years, 45 hospital facilities offering abortion (and other services) have closed.

The Depardieu case

In December 2023, Emmanuel Macron claimed that a “witch hunt” was underway against a man who - so far - faces three charges of rape and sexual assault. The man is Gérard Depardieu, France's best known and highest paid actor, who makes regular appearances in  the headlines for objectionable statements, acts meriting prosecution, or choosing not to pay taxes in France.

The latest controversy, which has earned him the support of the French president, is due to a Complément d'enquête broadcast showing a video shot during a trip to North Korea where the actor makes sexual and sexualising comments, even towards a little girl. Of particular note is a Mediapart investigation by Marine Turchi gathering the testimonies of 13 women who accuse the actor of sexual violence.

On 25 December, a letter appeared on the website of the conservative daily Le Figaro, signed by several entertainment industry personalities, in support of Depardieu. Several signatories later withdrew their support after it emerged that the person who drafted and launched the petition, Yannis Ezziadi, has close affiliations with the far right.

As Polish sociologist Elżbieta Korolczuk explains in Voxeurop, the topics of gender and feminism are at the heart of reactionary right-wing discourse.

Changing laws may be important, but changing cultural and political paradigms also matters - a lot. Defending abortion seems 'easy' in a country where there is currently no risk of that liberty being repealed. Violence against women, on the other hand, seems less obvious when it concerns a man in your own social group.

The law is important, but it is not enough.

In this regard, it’s worth reading the engaging and polemical interview in Voxeurop with Croatian researcher Jana Kujundžić, in which she argues that the Croatian government's decision to make femicide a crime is insufficient when power structures remain unchanged.

Sexual abuse scandals in Polish media: the Marcin Kącki case 

The case of Marcin Kącki has led to heated discussion in Poland. The journalist – who has, ironically enough, won multiple awards for his investigative work on sexual and sexist abuse cases – published a confession in Gazeta Wyborcza of his less than honourable behaviour with women, admitting that he often exceeded the limits of decency (and the law), and offering a public apology. Initially greeted with praise, the letter was later withdrawn, leading to Kącki's removal, after one of the people he had harassed, journalist Karolina Rogaska, came forward with more details. Ragoska reveals that the issue was already known, and had led to Kącki’s quiet removal from the school where he taught. She also claims that Kącki’s confession is a charade, or an effort to protect himself, Notes for Poland reports.

According to journalist Kata Puto, the affair is at least a sign that things are changing. In Krytyka Polityczna she writes that “Even if Kącki's confession is narcissistic and blind to the victims' perspective (and it is), even if it was written out of fear rather than sincere regret (we don't know), the very fact that this happened shows that we are in a very different situation today than before #MeToo”.

A 2023 study by Fundacja Instytut Zamenhofa based on the testimonies of 268 Polish female journalists reveals that 60 percent were victims of sexual violence at some point in their lives.

On rape and consent

The debate on consent and rape in European countries, discussed last month, continues. Of particular note, an open letter by Marta Asensio, activist with WeMove, which campaigns on this issue together with the European Women Lobby. Meanwhile, in Krytyka Polityczna, Marcin Anaszewicz Sylwia Spurek e Barbara Wołk call for Poland to introduce consent as a criterion in the definition of rape.

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In Russia, abortion restrictions also affect access to emergency contraception. In response, feminist activists in several cities have established clandestine stockpiles of emergency contraceptive pills. Independent Russian media outlet Holod, founded by journalist Taisiya Bekbulatova, reports. 

What to do after a crisis in masculinity 

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An engaging essay by the philosopher and psychoanalyst Andrzej Leder traces the history of domination. In the 19th century, social inequality between workers and capital predominated. Today, inequality between the sexes takes centre stage. In the shadow of the great feminist revolution gradually changing the character of culture and society in the global north, a crisis of masculinity emerges. "For some it is simply a 'cry of wounded patriarchy', for others it is a catastrophe that affects - after all - half of humanity". And the effects are not equal: there are men who have access to the imaginary of dominance, and others who are excluded. 

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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