Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Royal Cover of 'Time'

This blog has had a number posts (here, here and here) on French favorite to lead France's Socialist Party bid for the Presidency - Segolène Royal. Well, she is now making the cover of the European edition of Time Magazine this week.

As always with Ms Royal, part of the article was about her being a woman. Time points out something not necessarily well known outside France with regard to the status of women:

In no European country outside Scandinavia do women make up as large a proportion of the workforce as in France — thanks in part to a generous system of maternity support, which has also given France Europe's second highest fertility rate, behind only Ireland.

The article also draws the portrait of some other French “leading ladies” such as the head of France's Defense Ministry, the leader of France’s most prestigious math programs, or the women in charge the world's biggest builder of nuclear power plants, the national theater and a major employers' federation.

The paradox is that French women have yet to conquer the field of politics:

Only 12% of the current members of the National Assembly are women, compared with 20% in Britain's House of Commons and 45% in Sweden's Parliament.

Adding that with "women making up just 15% of the House of Representatives, the U.S. has only a slightly better record than France."

Time is right when they say that French society as a whole is very open to the idea of a woman presidency, the political parties however, may be more relctuant. The problem is not necessarily that the French political leaders (mostly older white males) are ideologically against women per se, they just want to keep their turf and they have a clannish attitude in their fight keep their power. In other words, they just don’t want anyone else to take their place, woman or not, minority or not, young or not.

Royal herself has been pretty smart in her political strategy and has used the media and the Internet to bypass the old guard by appealing directly to the voters. She has not won the bid for the party yet but as duly noticed by Time, "Socialist Party membership rolls have almost doubled since the beginning of the year [Thanks to the Internet] and it appears more of the newcomers are female, better educated and younger than the average – and they will vote in November.

She has also blurred the usual ideological differences between right and left. For instance,

she advocates a tougher line on delinquents, wants to loosen widely circumvented rules requiring students to attend schools in their neighborhoods, and has even criticized the 35-hour workweek

This is definitely something unheard of in the socialist party and France has certainly never seen anyone like her before.

Her non-doctrinaire approach may be what makes her popular but she has also been criticized for ideological emptiness. Her critics have said that political strategy has replaced the exchange of ideas, what politics should really be about.

In my opinion, it is too early to tell. She is definitely a smart woman and in my views, her greatest quality as of yet is that she seems to be the only one who may have a chance to beat Interior Minister and conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy.

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