France military sexism: Minister pledges zero tolerance

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image captionSaint-Cyr was founded by Napoleon in 1802

France's defence minister has promised "zero tolerance" of discrimination in the armed forces amid allegations of widespread sexual harassment involving an elite military academy near Paris.

A group of male students is said to have forced out young women attending a preparatory school for the École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr.

Defence Minister Florence Parly said those involved would be excluded.

"There is no place for sexism in our armed forces," she told parliament.

The École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr is the equivalent of institutions such as Sandhust in the UK and West Point in the US.

It was founded by Napoleon in 1802 but only admitted women for the first time in 1986.


The allegations were carried by French newspaper Libération, which last month quoted a letter sent to President Emmanuel Macron by a female student denouncing the presence of fraternities of ultranationalist young men known as "tradis", or traditionalists.

According to the young woman, a group of about 60 male recruits out of the 230 at the centre was "willing to do anything" to force her and other female students to drop out.

"I'm ashamed for having wanted to join an army that isn't ready to receive women. I've learnt that having a vagina ruins a career, a vocation, a life," she wrote.

The report also quoted a number of former female students who said that sexual harassment by male recruits - who were said to have routinely ignored, insulted or publically humiliated young women - eventually led them to leave their military training, while homophobic and extreme right-wing behaviour was widespread.


Responding to a question in parliament, the defence minister said that those involved would face exclusion and would be prevented from staying at the academy to resit courses.

Ms Parly said the school's administration could also face sanctions if it failed to act against the alleged harassment.

However, Libération said that the punishments did not go far enough, noting that only two students faced a potential period of exclusion, one of whom had reportedly dropped out of the school to avoid any damage to his military record.

The exclusion period also coincides with a period when most students go home, the newspaper reports, and no students are expected to be prevented from taking part in the competitive exams later this month.

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