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The walk from the Gare du Nord across the Seine to France’s centre of power, a string of buildings off the Quai d’Orsay, takes a pleasant, circuitous hour: the route is a tourist’s dream. But for Marlène Schiappa, France’s freshly appointed gender equality minister, the streets of Paris are the frontline in a war between the sexes. Where I see boutiques and fruit and vegetable stalls, cafes and splendid architecture, Schiappa’s eye is drawn instead to the idling men ogling young women; to the handsome displays in every pharmacy window advertising weight-loss solutions – “Minceur Thé Vert” (Slimming Green Tea), “Ventre Plat” (Flat Stomach – and illustrated by pictures of delighted young women using a tape measure as a skipping rope. “France is paradoxical,” Schiappa tells me. “We are the country of Simone de Beauvoir, of feminist theory and philosophy. But we are also a Latin country with entrenched stereotypes.”

She greets me warmly in what must have once been a grand dining room; the parliamentary district in the 7th arrondissement has not changed much since its vast mansions were built for nobility in the 18th century. It is the day before Theresa May will meet Emmanuel Macron, France’s youngest ever president, who assumed office on 14 May. At 39, with no campaigning experience, Macron has surrounded himself with young cabinet members who are new to politics, as a way of making a clean break with his socialist predecessor Francois Hollande. This week he made businesswoman Florence Parly minister for the armed forces (defence for four of the EU’s five largest economies is now overseen by women); he has appointed TV presenter Nicolas Hulot as environmental and social transition minister (the equivalent of Theresa May giving David Attenborough a cabinet post).

But Macron’s most contentious appointment is Schiappa, at 34 the youngest member of his cabinet, whom he has put in charge of equality between men and women, with a brief to tackle the gender pay gap and improve women’s rights in the workplace. A former advertising executive-turned-author, she’s best known as a campaigner and blogger, and has outraged France’s right wing with her unapologetic feminism. Read More …