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Bold feminist poster campaign strikes a chord in Paris and beyond

by Elena Berton | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 29 September 2020 12:23 GMT

A message made of A4 posters painted with black letters is shown pasted on a wall in Rue Bouvier in Paris on Sept. 29, 2020. The message translates as “If you tear it off we'll be back again”. Thomson Reuters Foundation/ Elena Berton

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Posters give women a new forum and change the way they relate to public spaces, says activist Marguerite Stern

By Elena Berton

PARIS, Sept 29 (Reuters) - A feminist poster campaign in Paris that draws on street art techniques to denounce rape, sexual harassment and murder is striking a chord with city residents and inspiring copycats as far afield as China, its creator said.

Over the last year, activists have been pasting walls with white A4 paper sheets painted with black letters to spell out messages such as "She's not dressed as a slut. You think like a rapist" and "Women are screaming. The state remains silent".

"In the beginning, we addressed our messages to politicians, urging them to act about domestic violence," said Marguerite Stern, 29, who initiated the campaign by putting up several poster messages and sharing photographs of them on social media.

While the government "has done nothing concrete", the posters have given women a forum and helped change how they approach public spaces, Stern told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"They help those who put up the posters and also those who just walk by and see the messages, because they feel they're not alone any more," she said.

A message made of A4 posters painted with black letters is shown pasted on a wall in Rue Bouvier in Paris on Sept. 29, 2020. The message translates as “Julie raped by 20 firemen. Only three are being prosecuted #justiceforjulie”. Thomson Reuters Foundation/ Elena Berton

Putting posters on city walls is illegal in France so the "Gluers", as they have become known, work quickly and normally after dark to avoid being spotted.

Although France became the first country to pass a law punishing public sexual harassment in August 2018, women say they continue to be subjected to catcalls, insults and violence when they walk in the street.

A quarter of French women aged between 18 and 29 are afraid when they are out in the streets, and at least 20% face harassment at least once a year, according to a 2019 report by the country's INSEE statistics bureau.

Nearly 70% of young women living in the Paris area have suffered sexual harassment or violence in public, another government study found.

Stern's first poster message, which she put up in February 2019, recalled her experiences of sexual harassment on the streets of Paris and later in Brussels.

"Men on the street have been making comments about my appearance since I was 13," the poster read.

A message made of A4 posters painted with black letters is shown pasted on a wall in Rue Bouvier in Paris on Sept. 29, 2020. The message translates as “Reforms before we die”. Thomson Reuters Foundation/ Elena Berton

She followed it up a month later with a stinging criticism over a femicide case: "Julie was killed by her ex on 03.03.2019. She had made five complaints."

France has Europe's second-highest femicide rate after Germany, the Eurostat data shows.

The number of women killed by their partner or ex-partner in the country rose by a fifth in 2019 to 146, according to figures released by the French Interior Ministry in August.

Eager to share her striking protest medium, Stern made an appeal on social networks for fellow activists and women to get involved.

Since then, similar poster messages have popped up elsewhere in Europe and in China, she said.

Chloe Madesta, 27, who belongs to a Paris-based "Gluers" group, said activists sometimes face hostility from men when they spot them sticking up the posters.

"We've been pelted with eggs, vegetables, all sorts of things," she said. "A group of women in Montpellier was almost run over by a car."

Although the posters are often torn off or painted over, their photos survive on social media, inspiring more activists to spread their messages on city walls.

"The fact the posters are defaced means their message is striking a chord," Stern said. "Our fight is not over yet."

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(Reporting by Elena Berton; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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