Quick facts

Qualitative facts

Concrete application of the parity principle:

1. Historical evolution

2. Measures concerning systems that use ballots

3. Immediatly applicable text

Europäische Datenbank: Frauen in Führungspositionen

Report from France by our transnational partner
Dominique Simon-Peirano

Quick facts
Women in Politics:
Women's suffrage active: 1944
Women's suffrage passive: 1944
1st Women in parliament: 1936 Junior Ministers
1st Women in government: 1947-1948 Germaine Poinson-Chapois,
Ministry of Health
1st Ministry on women's issues: 1974-1993 Ministry on Women's Affairs
% women in national Parliament: 10,2% (2000) Lower House; 5,9% Upper House (Senat)
% women in national Government: 34,4% (2000)
Electoral System:
Majoritarian: National Assembly:
577 deputies, 321 senators; indirectly elected by department electoral colleges from 108 multi-seat departments and territories.
Quota Law: Recent change in constitution introducing the principle of parity.
Party Quota:  
% women with secondary degree: 58,3 % (1996/1997)
% women with degree in higher education: 56,5% (1997)
% women in senior management: 5,7% (1999)
Women's employment rates:
Full time: 45,4% (1998)
Part-time: 31,6% (1998)
Activity rate: 62,1% (1998)
Unemployment: 13,8% (1998)
*sources: Employment in Europe 1999 and Schlüsselzahlen zum Bildungswesen in der Europäischen Union, Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaft 1997, Luxemburg; European Database - Women in Decision-Making and data by transnational experts.

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Qualitative facts

Equal participation of women and men in the decision-making process is one of the priorities of the European Union. In March 1995, under the French Presidency of the Union, the Council adopted a resolution on the equal participation of women and men in decision-making. Given its well-established past in terms of a welcomed representation of women on the political scene, France has chosen - under its presidency of the European Union - to retain three subjects to be scheduled during the upcoming conference of Ministries in charge of equal rights in October 2000:

  • Women and decision-making
  • Work and family life structure
  • A multilateral approach to the objective of equal rights
The French government has already undertaken global steps to improve equal rights for women and men in all aspects of life, social, economic and political.

During the meeting of the Interministerial Committee on Women's Rights and Equality, held on the 8th of March, 2000, eight objectives aimed at promoting equal rights for women and men were given priority for the 2000/2001 period:

  • Facilitating career opportunities for the women
  • Fighting against discrimination in the workplace
  • Putting increased value on the contribution of women to economic development
  • Guaranteeing freedom of choice and physical integrity
  • Making daily life easier for women
  • Putting increased value on women in the world of culture
  • Leading European and international actions in favour of equal rights
  • Setting up the means to attain equal rights
This is a first and decisive step in the march towards equal rights. This action plan will be reviewed on March 8th of next year, and is an integral part of the multiannual policy in favour of equal rights for women and men.

First to retain attention is POLITICAL PARITY:

A turning point was reached in modernising the political scene when Congress agreed to amend the Constitution on the 28th June 1999. Today, men and women have equal opportunities with regard to mandates and electoral seats, as set forth in the Constitution. This has enabled the development of a proposal for a law concerning equal rights in elections regional, European, senatorial and legislative elections. This law will be effective at the next polls.

The proposed law, which was voted upon at its first reading by the National Assembly on the 25th January 2000 and by the Senate the 2nd March 2000, lays down compulsory provisions applicable to ballots and proportional representation elections, and financial penalties for parliamentary elections.

The Observatory of equal rights for women and men, which was renewed in 1998, follows the application of the law on equal rights. The Observatory will participate in a public awareness campaign on equal rights that will be launched next September in support of this major reform.

With regard to EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES for men and women, great progress has been made.

Equality at work is an agreed upon right, but the facts show that it has not been established at the workplace. Most of the time, women occupy low-level jobs in fields of limited activity, and have fewer opportunities for further education or promotions. More women work part-time than men, even though half of these women did not chose to do so. If we consider all of these inequities, the resulting difference in compensation between men and women is 25% on the average.

Top-to-bottom action is required to fight against the stereotypical social representation of women and men and improve the professional situation of women. Short-term action is also required for women who face multiple difficulties and are in search of a job.

This a why an agreement aimed at favouring equal rights for boys and girls in the school system was established by the Ministries of National Education, Employment and Solidarity, Agriculture and Women's Rights, on the 25th February 2000.

Moreover, a proposed law regarding equal employment opportunities for women and men was supported by the Government and discussed at its first reading on the 7th March 2000. It is aimed at improving employment opportunities in business and in the public sector. Even though the law of 1983 regarding equal work served to establish the principle of equality between women and men at work, it needed not only to be revised, but also to be enforced.

This proposed law provides in particular for the compulsory triennial negotiation of equal work conditions.

Finally, in order to fight against discrimination within the Government, under the proposed law for social modernization, the burden of proof will be shared. The employee will no longer be alone in bearing the burden of proving discrimination.

On the 8th of March 2000, the Prime Minister clearly expressed willingness to establish women in their legitimate positions, and concern about fighting the discrimination they have suffered. The global "mainstreaming" approach to achieving equal opportunities for women and men involves all of the ministries, and all levels of government action. Representation at high levels, general mobilization, education, time management in order to improve daily life, and family policies that include both parents, will all contribute to building an integrated society. This march towards equal rights will encounter resistance, but is also be irreversible.

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On the 28th of June 1999, Congress voted for the constitutional amendment that empowered the law to "favor equal opportunities for women and men for electoral mandates and electoral seats". During the Council of Ministers held on the 8th of December 1999, the Minister of the Interior prepared a proposal law that allows the parity principle to be applied at the next scheduled elections.

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1. Historical evolution
Even though women have been eligible to serve in office since 1945, the number of women who served in office stagnated until 1997. In 1945, women represented 5 % of the National Assembly. Fifty years later, they represented only 6 % of the Assembly, while they constituted 53 % of the voters. Following the elections in 1997, the percentage of women on the floor of the Assembly reached 10.4 %. Aside from Greece, however, France remains the least advanced European country in terms of opening the political scene to women.

It was therefore necessary to "act so that our representative democracy would reflect as faithfully as possible the electoral body, so that our citizens, seeing persons like them in office, would feel closer to elected, and so that our democracy, which has been profoundly renewed by feminisation, might gain in dynamism, vitality and imagination ". (Lionel JOSPIN, Prime Minister, gave this address before Parliament during a meeting in Congress on the 28th June 1999).

Political responsibilities will help women assert their presence in other high-level public positions in other fields such as business management, research, and universities.

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2. Measures concerning systems that use ballots
The parity principle applicable to the list system
Regarding the list system, the proposed law requires an equal number of candidacies in the case of an even number of seats, with a margin of one in the case of odd numbers. Equality also implies that the list be registered with the prefecture or the Minister of the Interior for the European elections. The list system is particularly adapted to implement the parity principle, since it allows a strict mathematical balance in the number of candidates.

This measure therefore concerns the following elections: municipal elections, elections of the European Parliament, Senate elections under the proportional system, and local elections locales (Assembly of Corsica, Council of Paris…).

Incentives for parliamentary elections
From a practical point of view, the uninominal majority system does not allow for parity of the candidates. Therefore, the law provides financial penalties for political parties who do not respect the parity principle. Public aid will be reduced as soon as the deviation from parity reaches 2 %. Thus, the amount of public financing for a party composed of 48 % women and 52 % men will be reduced.

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3. Immediatly applicable text
The National Assembly already voted on the text at its first reading on the 25th January. The Senate upheld it on the 2nd of March. It will be reviewed for definite ratification at a new reading held during the public session on Thursday, the 30th of March 2000.

One it is ratified, the law will apply to the following elections. It will therefore be effective for the municipal elections of 2001, the parliamentary elections of 2002, the regional elections of 2004 and the European elections of 2003.

This law is all the more easy to apply inasmuch as it does not modify in any way structure of the French election system.

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