'This is so wrong': Hollande highlights domestic violence in French lockdown

Ex-president backs new app for victims as WHO reports 60% rise in domestic abuse calls

The former French president François Hollande has spoken of his concern for women suffering domestic abuse during the lockdown.

In an interview with the Guardian, Hollande called for schoolchildren to be taught that violence at home was unacceptable but that it affected every social group.

“There’s this idea that it’s just a problem in working-class settings or immigrant areas, but this is so wrong. It happens in all types of families,” he said. “For too long violence against women has been pushed aside because it was considered part of the personal, the private, and not something that concerned society.”

Hollande was speaking to support a new phone app developed in France, but available in the UK and a dozen other countries, to help female victims of violence whether at home, in the workplace or in public.

App-Elles – available for Android or iOS – allows women and girls to discreetly alert three trusted contacts when they are being attacked allowing them to call the police if necessary. As well as a GPS alert, a recording is made of the attack in real time on the victims and contacts’ phones.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization said emergency calls by women being subjected to threats or violence from their partner had risen by 60% compared with last year. The WHO pointed out that even before the Covid-19 crisis and lockdowns in several countries, a quarter of all women and one child in three were victims of physical or sexual abuse. In the first two weeks of lockdown in France the number of calls reporting conjugal violence rose 32% according to the equality secretary Marlène Schiappa. The strict lockdown ends in France on Monday.

Diariata N’Diaye, an artist and feminist campaigner, received a €200,000 grant to develop App-Elles, a play on the word Appel (call) and Elle (her) from Hollande’s Fondation la France s’engage (France is committed).

“When we started developing this five years ago, I was surprised there was nothing like it already. I thought, we can use technology to send men to the moon, but we don’t think to use it to help women victims of violence,” N’Diaye said.

“Maybe because this is not a business. It’s not about making money. It’s a tool for women who are victims of violence to discreetly alert someone. We’re often told that women can call the police if they are being attacked, but they can’t. Often they can’t speak freely and it’s not possible to make a call.

“Here they can alert someone they trust to raise the alarm.”

The app is free but women can also buy a connected bracelet to raise the alarm without using their phone.

In 2019, at least 126 women were killed in France by a current or ex partner.

Hollande said he had tried to address issues of domestic violence during his five years in the Élysée between 2012 and 2017, including making it easier for female victims to remain in the family home with children by forcing their abuser to leave.

And he admitted his partner, actress Julie Gayet, an ambassador for the Fondation des Femmes (Women’s Foundation), had encouraged him to continue supporting women’s issues and the #MeToo movement since leaving office.

“In her work as an artist and actress she has been confronted with the violence that has been talked about in recent years and I have visited centres for women fleeing [violent] husbands with her,” Hollande said.

On the well-publicised backlash against #MeToo in France, including by Catherine Deneuve, Hollande said: “There were a number of actors and actresses in France who argued that this is a country of the seduction of women by men and this is part of our liberties, freedom of choice and culture and I wouldn’t argue with that … but the key word is consent. The question of consent and choice is fundamental. There is no freedom of choice where there is domination, or where there is no equality.”

Hollande said he believed “progress had been made” in the police response to complaints of violence and harassment but that more needed to be done within the justice system and at schools.

“In the past schools didn’t want to expose children to too many taboos, including the violence at the heart of the family. It was thought better not to talk about it even though we knew, tragically, it touched a number of children. But it is important to develop a programme at school to expose this,” he said.

“And when we hear of women who are killed by a partner who was convicted but came back to attack them, we know there have to be better sanctions,” he said.

N’Diaye says her app is specifically for female victims of violence.

“Often when I say this I get men asking what about male victims. My answer is that it’s not that we don’t acknowledge there is violence against men, or that we don’t care; it’s just not the subject of this app.”


Kim Willsher

The GuardianTramp

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