Poster of the municipality of Saint Denis via Oriane Fihol


Female archaeologists ‘sexually harassed’ while digging in Paris


In the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, female archaeologists say they are constantly being harassed at work by passers-by. In response, the municipality has launched a poster campaign targeting such behaviour.

On Place Jean Jaurès, in the heart of Saint-Denis city centre, there is a major archeological project underway, where female and male experts are unearthing relics of the past. But it seems seeing the women toil away, sitting or bending over in hot-weather clothing, does not sit well with some locals in the immigration-heavy neighbourhood.

For several months now, complaints have been made that some locals have been harassing and sexually insulting the female archaeologists working at the site.

The women said such behaviour includes being wolf-whistled at, being told they are dressed “too scantily” and that what they are doing is a “man’s job”.

The situation has raised concerns among most other residents of the municipality interviewed by the right-wing media outlet CNEWS. “They have the right to do whatever they want, and besides, they are working. We live in a democratic country. They can dress as they please and do what they want,” one of those questioned told the outlet.

Others were not so accommodating, with one interviewee stating the insults were “because a woman should not show her legs”.

“These comments are not unusual,” said Laura Mary from the collective Paye ta Truelle, which fights for equality and diversity in the world of francophone archaeology.

“I am, unfortunately, not surprised,” she told local media. “In our field, the appearance and abilities of women are often questioned, not only by people outside the construction site but also by male colleagues.”

The deputy mayor of Saint-Denis, Oriane Filhol of the Solidarity and Ecology Group, said the local government had responded by putting up posters around the area urging onlookers to behave “decently” and respect the work of the archaeologists.

The police presence in the area has also been raised and extra video cameras installed.

“Adopt the right behaviour,” warn the posters, depicting an archaeologist with a trowel. “We remind you that any lack of respect … will be reported and prosecuted, as provided by the law.”

Filhol also lamented on social media that commentators have used the situation to “bash Saint-Denis online and bring about racist, Islamophobe, humiliating and discriminating remarks that have nothing to do with the matter”.

According to her, the problem is: “Men who harass women, everywhere and all the time, in France and elsewhere.” She pledged to keep fighting against sexist abuse and sexual violence and all forms of discrimination.

At the Saint-Denis city hall, completely covering the construction site to protect the women working there was considered but dismissed.

“By keeping the excavations visible, we enable the residents to see the wealth our territory holds and understand why the construction site is underway,” Filhol said.

With the poster campaign, Saint-Denis lets aggressors know that they cannot act with impunity, observers said, and it reminds witnesses that they have a role to play in addressing such incidents.