By Joey Myers

“Shut your mouth, I don’t talk to women, being a police officer is not a job for women,”

That’s what a man in Belgium reportedly told a female police officer who’d stopped him for a highway code violation.

His comments have led to a €3,000 (US$3,724) fine, in the first conviction of its kind under a law that criminalises sexism in a public place. The man was told that if he failed to pay the fine, he’d spend a month behind bars.

Making sexism illegal

The law was introduced in 2014. It defines sexism as remarks or actions that suggest inferiority based on gender, reduce “someone to his or her sexual dimension”, or are intended to “express contempt.”

You can be prosecuted under the law if you’ve violated the other person’s dignity.

A spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office in Halle Vilvoorde, Gilles Blondeau, said threats and insults made against police officers are common, but “to personally blame a policewoman because of her sex is special.”

He explained it was a good case to test the law, as there were lots of witnesses to the incident.

A mindset shift?

The conviction took place in November, the New York Times report, but is only now gaining attention. The timing is apt as the #MeToo movement continues to gain momentum, with International Women’s Day on March 8 another focal point in the struggle against sexism.

France has also recently announced it will fine men €300 for harassing women in the street.

Global figures for women who’ve faced sexual harassment are hard to come by. Women are often reluctant to come forward, adding to the difficulty of compiling an accurate number. A 2016 poll from ActionAid did report that 79% of women living in Indian cities, 86% in Thailand, and 89% in Brazil had faced harassment or violence in public.

The global gender gap

The drive for equality also remains elusive.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 showed progress has reversed on closing the overall global gender gap.

 Progress on closing the Global Gender Gap
Image: World Economic Forum

Based on current trends, it will now take 100 years to close this gap – compared to 83 years in 2016.

Belgium ranked 31st out of 144 countries last year and has slipped more than 10 places since 2006. Indeed, it doesn’t currently make the top 10 in western Europe.