In France, for the real equality between women and men

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s minister for women’s rights

On July 23, 2014, the French Parliament passed a bill entitled “for the real equality between women and men.” The bill covers nine fields of societal life and avoids the pitfall of opposing private and public life that has always kept women invisible. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s Minister for Women’s Rights who introduced the bill, explained, “Because inequalities are everywhere, we’re having to act everywhere.”

Here is a quick summary of the nine parts that address parity and professional equality as well as precariousness and violence.

* Pregnancy and employment.

Women already enjoy maternity leave from 6 months for the first child to a possible 3 years after the second child. With the bill there will be an additional 6 months for paternity leave. Jobs will be guaranteed during maternity and paternity leaves. Today only 3.3% of fathers take some kind of parental leave. Commonly, men argue that they don’t want to suffer career consequences in taking parental leave. This law may help reverse this trend by first forcing paternity leave and reducing the impact of parental leave on parent’s career. However, the financial compensation is still meager compared to what is given in countries like Sweden where 90% of fathers take their parental leave, but it is a start.

*Professional equality.

Women are paid an average of 25% less than men for equal qualifications and have a harder time finding jobs that are labeled masculine. A broad range of measures in the bill address this issue, from subsidies to penalties for companies, public administrations, etc. In addition, a campaign has been launched in order to support jobs’ desegregation and fight gender stereotypes that affect women’s education. According to France’s Department of Labor, in order to have professional parity, 52% of the workers should change jobs. Studies suggest that in 60% of the cases educational segregation is responsible for discrepancies. Although in France women hold more degrees than men, they are more under employed.

*Breaking the glass ceiling to support access to decision-making position in public administration and companies for women.

Starting in 2017, there will be mandatory 40% women candidates to positions of executive manager in the public sector.

*Protection of single mothers.

For single mothers who don’t receive regular child support from the father of their children, a public trust will be granted to women to protect them from financial loss while measures to recover child support will be taken.

*Protection of women against domestic violence.

Women who are victim of domestic violence will have full protection, and their violent “partners” will be removed immediately. The bill reinforces the anti-abuse laws in the military and at university. It also provides better protection for immigrant. The law provides a wider array of possibilities for the sentencing of perpetrators of domestic violence to avoid repeat offences, with more education programs. The bill ensures nationwide of the very successful free emergency hotline.

*Better access to information on abortion.

The bill changes the language of the abortion law from a situation of distress to not pursuing an unwanted pregnancy. It also reinforces protections against anti abortion activists.

*Act against gender stereotypes.

France’s media regulator CSA will now have the authority to assure that women are not diminished with sexist statements or degrading representation. This measure will include sensibility training for journalists.

*Addressing hyper-sexualization of girls.

Beauty contests for children under the age of 13 are banned, and authorization is needed between the age of 13 and 16.

*Political representation

The bill increases fines for political parties that do not meet equal representation objectives. In 2012 with 40% of women candidates to the National Assembly, only 26.9% were elected.

All these measures tackle the various reasons that keep women in precarious positions. They also work on language and symbols as patriarchal references. For instance, the bill removed some gender-loaded language, such as “the good family man”, from the Civil Code. It also works on societal symbols, equaling marriage and civil union.

These measures are a start and were long due. Still, as Vallaud Belkacem declared, “I don’t believe that history is going to spontaneously take us forward, so going towards more equality needs us to be politically proactive.” Meanwhile, the French government barely respects the bill’s call for parity since men hold the all main ministries.

The opposition to the bill was small. However groups that have a conservative vision of family and nation argue that women should keep their role and it will cost too much to the state to support these changes. This type of opposition reveals once again that the unpaid, unrecognized work of women has been sustaining the civil society at the cost of women’s rights and well-being.

After all, at the time of the French revolution, the French Revolutionary Congress did not include women as citizens in its Declaration of Rights, the Declaration of Rights of Man. Instead it sent revolutionary women to the guillotine and banned women from debating men as equals.

Two centuries and a half later the Parliament finally showed signs of change. Clearly, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is right. We need proactive political actions to address gender inequalities , and we need to remember that class and ethnic inequalities are linked to gender inequalities and must be addressed politically.


(Photo Credit: RFI / Reuters / Jacky Naegelen)

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States. She is a member of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.