On Saturday, Nov. 23, about 150,000 people across France — from Paris to Bordeaux to Lyon — gathered in protest of growing rates of femicide in France. Femicide is the killing of a woman or girl on account of her gender by a man. Since the start of 2019, 137 women have died from gender-based violence in France.
The outrage over the rise in femicide in France was sparked by the murder of Julie Douib by her husband, Bruno Garcia Cruciani. Douib reported domestic violence to the French police over a dozen times, including an incident where she told police she was afraid her husband, who had a gun license, might shoot her. The police told her they could not do anything until her husband actually pointed a gun at her. Two days later, Douib’s husband shot and killed her.
Douib’s murder was emblematic of the danger domestic violence poses to women and the obstacles women face when reporting violence to police. A French dialogue began and led to the #NousToutes movement, which organized the protests on Saturday. #NousToutes translates to “All of Us,” but takes the French feminine verb form, meaning “All of Us Women.” It was founded in the summer of 2019 as an extension of the #MeToo movement, or the French equivalent #BalanceTonPorc, to call attention to the widespread gender-based violence men commit against women in France. This gender-based violence includes domestic abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and other forms of sexual violence.
More than just a protest march, the #NousToutes grassroots movement has pushed change in France. Though French President Emmanuel Macron has failed to keep his promises of making gender equality the “great national cause,” the French government opened a national debate on gender-based violence and femicide. After Macron admitted on Facebook that France “couldn’t manage to protect” women from femicide and intimate-partner violence, he announced a three-month series of conferences involving government officials, women's rights groups, lawyers, prosecutors and victims’ families to work on preventing femicide and supporting domestic violence victims.
By some measures, domestic violence is more prevalent and destructive in the U.S. than in France, with 29 percent of American women experiencing physical violence by a partner compared to the 26 percent of French women. While France is taking steps to protect women from violent men, the U.S. seems to be ignoring the problem, which enables men to continue to abuse and violate women. Republicans in the U.S. are actively blocking a law designed to protect women and punish abusers of any gender.
In the U.S. House of Representatives this year, 157 Republicans voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) at the urging of the National Rifle Association. The bill was first passed in 1994 as the first federal legal acknowledgement of domestic and sexual violence, making them crimes and providing federal assistance to combat violence against women. While the VAWA Reauthorization did ultimately pass the House, the Republican-controlled Senate, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has refused to even take a vote on the bill.
While the VAWA Reauthorization is important for addressing gender-based violence in the U.S., it seems it will be stalled in the Senate until Democrats gain a majority, which is unlikely to happen soon given Republican voter suppression efforts.
In the meantime, feminists and activists can work to gain support for the Equal Rights Amendment, which has renewed hopes for passage after Democrats gained a majority in the Virginia House of Delegates in the 2019 election. The Equal Rights Amendment, proposed in 1923 by the National Women’s Party, is “designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex.” The amendment attempts to end legal distinctions between men and women regarding elements like divorce, property and employment.
The main clause of the ERA states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The U.S. Constitution does not promote this.
Passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972 and similarly ignored by the Senate, the ERA was ratified by 35 states, falling three states short of the required 38 before a 1982 deadline. It failed, in part, because of the efforts of conservative activist and strident anti-feminist Phyllis Schafly.
In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA, and one year later, Illinois became the 37th. While many express concerns these efforts might be in vain, some legal scholars question if the House had the authority to place a deadline on the amendment in the first place. Even if a court rules it did, then the House also has the authority to remove the original 1982 deadline. With a Democratic majority in the House, the ERA could therefore be passed in 2020, which also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment.
While the ERA is not specifically aimed at ameliorating domestic violence, a constitutional guarantee that rights cannot be abridged on the basis of sex can force law enforcement to protect women against domestic violence. In the 2005 case Town of Castle Rocks v. Gonzales, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment does not compel state law enforcement to enforce restraining orders protecting women against domestic violence. The ERA could fix this.
The U.S. desperately needs to address domestic violence, particularly that of men who commit violence against women. Domestic violence also affects men, though at far lower rates, and is not exclusive to heterosexual relationships. In the U.S., nearly one in three women and one in nine men will experience rape, physical violence or stalking by a partner.
The U.S. should emulate the French #NousToutes movement. Like France, we have a domestic violence epidemic. Passing the Equal Rights Amendment is the first legal step to ending it.
Marisa Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.