“We’re not launching a movement, and we’re not a trade union or a political organization," said Rebecca Amsellem, 28, the founder of Les Glorieuses and a PhD candidate in economics at Paris-Sorbonne University. "I just wanted to highlight that at this moment, women essentially stop being paid."
Gender inequality is hardly unique to France. But there is a perception that it remains particularly difficult to address under rigid workplace rules in France and the country's value on traditional routes for higher-level posts in politics and business.
Les Glorieuses, a feminist newsletter, made its calculation from data in a 2010 study from Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistics office, which concluded that salaries for women were roughly 15 percent lower than for their male counterparts.
"We tend to blame the woman for this inequality, as if they chose a job being paid less," she said, referring to many women who take part-time jobs to juggle child care and other domestic responsibilities they still feel obligated to take on.
Amsellem said she was inspired by a similar protest in Iceland, where thousands of women — by some estimates, as many as 90 percent of the country’s female population — left work at 2:38 p.m. on Oct. 24. They gathered in a large square in central Reykjavik and chanted “Out!” — out of the office, but also out with discrimination.
"I really wanted to take their example and follow their lead and to make a French movement that raised the general awareness of the equal pay gap in France," she said.
"We tend to say that women’s rights in France are great, that France has the best parental leave, and that France is a great working place for women. But the fact is still that we have a long way to go reach full equality."
In France, the issue is not purely economic. The accusations of improper sexual advances by Republican nominee Donald Trump have resonated in France. Many French women see sexual harassment as an unfortunate fixture of political life.
In 2011, there was “L’Affaire DSK,” the international scandal of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then the International Monetary Fund chief and French presidential hopeful. Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York after Nafissatou Diallo, a 32-year-old hotel maid, alleged that he had sexually assaulted her when she came into his room to clean. Those charges were ultimately dropped, but others followed.
In May, Denis Baupin, then vice president of France’s National Assembly, resigned from office when multiple women went public with accusations that he had sexually harassed female colleagues for years. Baupin has denied the allegations. In a striking similarity to some of the allegations against Trump, one woman accused Baupin of having pushed her up against a wall while he tried to kiss her.
Although it is impossible to know how many of France's 13.8 million working women participated in Monday’s protest, thousands across the country were seen on social media leaving the office in the middle of the afternoon. In solidarity with the movement, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo suspended city council.
In any case, the idea garnered significant support from high-profile women in the French government, many of whom have welcomed it as a means of calling attention to concerns that go beyond salaries.
In October, women across Poland staged a nationwide strike to protest proposals that would sharply limit abortions.
As Laurence Rossignol, the French government’s women’s rights minister, told Le Parisien newspaper: “When women protest, they make visible what is invisible.”