LES ECHOS

"Because Of Who I Am" — Sexual Harassment, A Plague In French Politics

Denis Baupin denies any wrongdoing.
Denis Baupin denies any wrongdoing.
Lucile Schmid

-OpEd-


PARIS â€" A sex scandal is again shaking up politics and media in France. Denis Baupin, a a Green Party member and vice president of the National Assembly, who also happens to be husband to the current housing minister, is being investigated after accusations that he harassed many women, including colleagues and elected officials, with some of these incidents apparently dating as far back as 15 years ago. Baupin denies any wrongdoing, and has sued the French media outlets that first reported them on Monday


We can only hope that these revelations will also shake up French society, if we want such behavior to end. The ghost of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has come back to haunt our political life. It's been five years since a New York hotel housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, accused the former International Monetary Fund head of sexually assaulting her. The criminal case was later dismissed, while a civil suit was quietly settled. A trial linked to the Carlton Hotel prostitutes scandal in which Strauss-Kahn was acquitted of aggravated pimping charges concluded just over a year ago.


In the latter case, France 24 journalist Tony Todd wrote in his report at the time of the trial that "a calm, confident and smiling Dominique Strauss-Kahn left the court, the sensationalist revelations on his sexual mores having failed to undermine his line of defense. He told the court he had always assumed they consented â€" to often brutal sex â€" "because of who I am"."


"Because of who I am..." These words tell the whole story. They explain the feeling of absolute power that comes with being in politics, and the mechanisms of ascendency it creates in male-female relationships. It doesn't exclude, of course, the talent, intelligence and attraction that power can involve. But in that case, those who take advantage of other people's weaknesses should be considered twice as much responsible for their actions.


It's stunning to see how women's bodies remain a strong object of desire for our male representatives. This is particularly striking in France, where gender equality is a principle enshrined in the Constitution, where equal pay is guaranteed by law, and where laws established gender parity in politics 15 years ago â€" legislation that has no real equivalent in Europe.


So, let's ask ourselves the hard question. Could such a thing have happened in a company, or inside the civil services? Probably, but it couldn't have gone on for that long, nor could it have reached the scale it did. This scandal perfectly sums up the insidious nature of a political world in which people rub shoulders with each other for years, and that fosters a sickening dependency.


And all of this takes place against a backdrop of growing disdain for ideas and programs, which has had two consequences: The political sphere is, without a doubt, the least civilized in our society, marred by intimidation, threats, and giving in to the "might is right" rule. The appalling byproduct of all this is that lawmakers are filled with an unparalleled feeling of impunity.


It’s then imperative that we do more if we want to go beyond pointing a finger at scapegoats, and actually change the system and its perversity. French politics is going off course. Isn't it time for us citizens to band together and acknowledge that we lost interest in how our democracy functions a long time ago?


It's about time society started applying some control on its elected officials, and it's about time that these officials learned that their sexual behavior will be under intense scrutiny. The fact that political machinations take place behind closed doors fuels impunity and violence. Internal democracy within political parties will function properly only if democratic life in France improves.


Thankfully, we're now on the edge of a real breakthrough on these issues. But we have to question a political tradition in which a leader does not account for nor justify how he exerts different kinds of power, be it sexual, financial, or, simply, decision-making.


For me, a member of France’s Green Party, it’s truly revolting to live through this situation, and watch it from inside a party that has always strived for parity in politics, and which has embraced non-violence and feminism as its core values. Like other political parties, the gap between our principles and the way we function is now exposed. Unfortunately, how we respond to these issues, even the most pressing and important ones, still depends on the moment, the context and political calculations.


We have to break away from this belief that it's never the right time to talk about certain things. It’s especially important to do so in our party, which asks itself a lot more questions than others on how to link our values to responsibilities, on how to have more checks and balances, and on how to protect whistleblowers.


All political parties, even ours, have slowly become lawless areas, and in this situation, women are left to fend for themselves. The paradox lies in the fact that this development has sped up in spite of the growing number of women in politics. This has probably taken place because of no real internal system to respect gender parity and not realizing that our collective political subconscious is far from a balanced representation.


How can we get rid off this entrenched system of droit de seigneur in politics? How can we make sure our officials reflect an ideal French society: diverse, intergenerational, cosmopolitan and respectful?


The judiciary has to play its part, but, in the long run, we'll have to assess whether French political life can one day give birth to a genuine respect toward women in politics and elsewhere.

* Lucile Schmid is a member of France's Green Party (Europe Ecology - The Greens)

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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