Saturday, December 16, 2006

France and the 'Woman Paradox'.

France is in many ways a land of paradoxes. This is all more obvious when it comes to the role of women in French society.

This year, one of the two contenders for the highest office in the nation is a woman and not only has French society as a whole no problem to the idea of a woman presidency, but it is even what makes this campaign attractive to a lot of people. At the same time, as we mentioned in a previous post, in no European country outside Scandinavia do women make up as large a proportion of the workforce as in France.

However do not let these elements mislead you. French society is far from egalitarian when it comes to the role of women in the fields of politics and economics:

A new study by the World Economic Forum, released last month, ranked France in 70th place in terms of parity between men and women in public and economic life, out of a field of 115 countries representing 90 percent of the world's population.

France was beaten by, among others, China, Peru, Russia, Poland, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. The ranking of the United States was 22, Canada was 14th, and the United Kingdom was 9th best in overall success in closing the gender gap. (CSM)

These results are in line with those of research done by the French:

Women represent 46% of the working population but only one-quarter of the managerial jobs in the private sector, according to the national antidiscrimination agency.

Their salaries, on average, are 21% lower than the salaries of men in comparable jobs. Also, only 12% of the deputies in the National Assembly - and only 17% in the Senate - are women. (CSM)

Are things changing? Yes, but slowly.

More women are elected at a local level (in cities and regions) but the key positions are still held predominantly by men. In 2000 a law was passed that required political parties to have as many women as men on their list of candidates in national elections and all parties have had to pay penalties for failing to reach parity between male and female candidates in national elections. (BBC)

Sure, you may see the popularity of Segolène Royal’s candidacy as a good sign, and it may very well be. But the very fact that the hype has a lot to do with her being a woman is an illustration that French society is far from mature in this respect. She has herself used her gender too often when attacked, even though it must be said that some men in her own parties made some rather misogynist comments early on. However, she seems to use her sex to dodge real questions sometimes.

Besides, France has always been keen on symbols but that does not mean that reality is affected. After all, the national symbol of France is the bare-breasted warrior-mother, Marianne, who is said to represent liberty, reason, and homeland, but it has not kicked in yet, more than 200 years later.

My fear is that this campaign might end up being too much about gender or personalities and not enough about ideas. In a way, the choice between Sarkozy and Royal seems to come down to a choice between a strict father and more nurturing model – a possible sign of the immaturity of the French people.

Gender Gap Report 2006

Overall ranking and score (1=equality - and you will notice than no country reaches 1.00)

  • 1. Sweden .8133
  • 2. Norway .7994
  • 3. Finland .7958
  • 4. Iceland .7813
  • 5. Germany .7524
  • 6. Philippines .7516
  • 7. New Zealand .7509
  • 8. Denmark .7462
  • 9. United Kingdom .7365
  • 10. Ireland .7335
  • 14. Canada .7165
  • 22. United States .7042
  • 46. Romania .6797
  • 63. China .6560
  • 70. France .6520
  • 98. India .6010
  • 115. Yemen .4762

Source: World Economic Forum

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