Debating and implementing gender parity in French politics

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The Aga Khan University]On: 10 October 2014, At: 08:58Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T3JH, UK

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    Debating and implementinggender parity in FrenchpoliticsSandrine Dauphin & Jocelyne PraudPublished online: 18 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Sandrine Dauphin & Jocelyne Praud (2002) Debating andimplementing gender parity in French politics, Modern & Contemporary France, 10:1,5-11, DOI: 10.1080/09639480120107532

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  • ISSN 0963-9489 print/ISSN 1469-9869 online/02/010005-07 q 2002 ASM&CFDOI: 10.1080/0963948012010753 2

    Modern & Contemporary FranceVol. 10, No. 1, 2002, pp. 511

    On 28 June 1999, the two houses of the French Parliament met in Versailles andadopted a constitutional bill on gender parity in politics modifying articles 3 and 4 ofthe Constitution. Henceforth, article 3 specifies that the law favours women andmens equal access to elected office, and article 4 requires that political partiesimplement this new provision. After a debate among French intellectuals on therelevance and necessity of using the principle of parity to enhance womens repre-sentation in elected assemblies and the development of a political consensus on thisissue, France became the first country in the world to pass such a bill. This is all themore surprising since the concept of parity initially appeared at the European level.More specifically, the term parity democracy was coined at a seminar of theCouncil of Europe in 1989.1 French women then seized on the concept at theCommissions first European summit Femmes au pouvoir that took place in Athensin November 1992.

    Why did parity resonate more with French women than with other Europeanwomen? Clearly, in France, more than anywhere else, parity heightened publicawareness of the small number of women involved in politics. In the 1990s, variousstatistics and studies identified France as being near the bottom of the Europeanleague, just above Greece, with regard to womens representation in electedassemblies. In 1992, 5.6 per cent of elected representatives were women, a figure thatdoubled to reach 10.9 per cent in June 1997. The symbolic case of Edith Cresson,Frances first woman Prime Minister (from May 1991 until April 1992), who washarshly rejected by both the Right and the Left, should also be mentioned. Aroundthe same time, just as several women politicians recounted the difficulties they

    Introduction

    Debating and implementing gender parity inFrench politics

    SANDRINE DAUPHINUniversit Paris VII-Jussieu

    JOCELYNE PRAUDUniversity of Regina, Canada

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  • 6 S. DAUPHIN & J. PRAUD

    encountered because of the ir sex , a number of books denounc ing F renchdemocracys exclusion of women were published.2

    To understand why women have had tremendous difficulties gaining access to theFrench political arena, it is important to look at Frances history. To begin with, theFrench Revolution played a key role in the exclusion of women from politics bysanctioning the sexual division of labour as well as the separation of private andpublic spheres and by codifying sexual inequality. It is commonly assumed thatuniversal suffrage was first acquired in 1848 even though women were excludedfrom it on the grounds that the 1804 Code civil napolonien identified them asminors. In the end, France was late in enfranchising women. Women were eventuallygranted the franchise in 1944 by a decree (rather than a vote of the Parliament) issuedby General de Gaulle in recognition of their involvement in the Resistance.Suffragists mistakenly thought that the franchise would open the doors of electedassemblies to women. Insidiously, however, the use of the exceptional measure ofthe decree to enfranchise women undermined their legitimacy to enter the FrenchParliament in large numbers. Fifty years later, the proportion of women in electedassemblies having not progressed at all, the concept of political parity was used todenounce the under-representation of women in assemblies and presented as a tool toremedy it.3 For the historian Genevive Fraisse, parity, or perfect equality as it ismost often defined, is lhabit de lgalit, since it guarantees women and mensequal access to decision-making positions. Thus, ensuring gender parity in politicssignals that women have the same rights and legitimacy as men to represent societyas a whole.

    At the same time, ensuring gender parity in politics also signals that republicanuniversalism has failed to bring about equality between men and women. Notsurprisingly then, the idea of parity led to a heated debate among French intel-lectuals. While nobody dared to contest the existence of a democratic deficit due towomens virtual absence from politics, the use of coercive means to boost womensrepresentation aroused some fierce controversies.

    How can more women be elected to assemblies? This political and pragmaticquestion leads one to reflect on the different voting systems, the functioning ofpolitical parties, the French tradition of holding several mandates concurrently(cumul des mandats) and the status of elected officials (statut de llu). However,during the debate of 19981999, the question concerning the means to enhancewomens representation became a question of principle: how could womensrepresentation be increased without infringing on the republican principles thatguarantee equality among all citizens? Paritarists and anti-paritarists advancedseveral arguments that are summarised in Table 1.

    From the emergence of the demand for parity until the adoption of the con-stitutional bill, three phases may be distinguished. The first phase concerns themobilisation of women and, in particular, women politicians. In 1992, FranoiseGaspard, Claude Servan-Schreiber and Anne Le Gall published a very importantbook, Au pouvoir citoyennes! Libert, galit, parit.4 That same year, and shortlyafter the conference of Athens, newly-established parity associationscomposedmainly of women active in political partiesstarted to lobby the authorities. More

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  • INTRODUCTION 7

    than 100 other womens and feminist associations included parity, or the principlethat the assemblies of a democracy should be composed of an equal number ofwomen and men, in their statutes. To justify their support of parity, these associationspointed to the fact that while 53 per cent of the electorate was female, only 5 per centof elected representatives were women. As soon as the question about the means touse to achieve parity was raised, divisions began to appear among pro-parity associa-tions, and anti-paritarists began to mobilise. On 10 November 1993, the newspaperLe Monde published the Manifeste des 577 pour une dmocratie paritaire5 whichdemanded that an organic law providing that elected assemblies at the local andnational levels be composed of an equal number of women and men be adopted.Certain pro-parity associations, however, insisted on the need to first modify theConstitution. For them, constitutional reform was crucial in light of the 1982 decisionof the Constitutional Council to strike down a law requiring that lists for municipalelections comprise a maximum of 75 per cent of candidates from the same sex. Atthe time, the Constitutional Council based its decision on the republican idea thatneither voters, nor candidates should be divided in categories.6 Although the demandfor parity did not give rise to a large social movement, it nevertheless revealed asituation that was democratically unjustifiable, at a time when the crisis of legitimacyfaced by political parties was particularly acute.

    Table 1.

    Arguments against parity Arguments for parity

    It undermines republican universalism Universalism is not neutral since it hasbecause citizens cannot be defined by their exclusively benefited men.social, religious or sexual characteristics.

    It leaves the door open to communitarianism Women are not a category, they are halfand thus to the demands of other minorities. of the population and thus transcend all

    categories.

    It is a humiliating quota for women. Parity is about perfect equality. Bycontrast, quotas are temporary measures.

    Women will be elected as women and not Because of their cultural differences,because of their skills. women will change politics. It is

    important to use womens existing skills,which have not been valued thus far.

    Parity is an obstacle to the emancipation Women are not a minority. Women areof other excluded groups. not solely responsible for the

    emancipation of other excluded groups.

    Womens interests will not be represented. Womens interests will be even lessrepresented in a predominantly maleassembly. Parity can draw attention onissues that have been neglected up until now.

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  • 8 S. DAUPHIN & J. PRAUD

    The second phase in the political history of gender parity relates to the reaction ofthose most affected by it, namely, political parties. Les Verts were the first party toinsert parity into their statutes in 1988. Through the 1990s, left- and right-wingparties presented several bills relating to parity.7 Right away, it became apparent thatthe demand for parity did not fit the traditional left/right cleavage. In the 1994European elections, Socialist leader Michel Rocard headed the first parity list. Oneyear later, in the presidential elections of 1995, all the candidates, except far-rightcandidates Jean-Marie le Pen and Philippe de Villiers, stated that they werefavourable to parity while endorsing different means to achieve it. Why did paritybecome an issue in French elections? Clearly, as elections drew nearer, parity washijacked by politicians who were well aware that 53 per cent of the electorate wasfemale. Furthermore, parity not only highlighted the need to reassess the functioningof democratic institutions, which had become more removed from voters, but it alsoresponded to the general crisis of political representation. This caused politicalparties to outdo each other regarding women. In 1995, Alain Jupps first govern-ment was comprised of 12 women, making it Frances most feminised government.However, the dismissal in November 1995 of those whom the media called theJupettes indicated that parties were still using token women. Moreover, one monthearlier, in keeping with the promise of presidential candidate Jacques Chirac, theObservatoire de la parit, responsible for making proposals to the government onhow to improve the situation of women in the public and private spheres, had beenestablished. Thus, to denounce the unwillingness of political elites and parties topromote women to positions of power, 10 high-profile women from the Left and theRight published a manifesto in support of political parity in the magazine LExpress.8

    Lastly, the third phase concerns the adoption of two bills on gender parity inpolitics. In January 1997, the first report of the Observatoire de la parit, entitled LaParit entre les femmes et les hommes dans la vie politique and written by GisleHalimi,9 was submitted to the Prime Minister. It concluded that political parity had tobe inserted into the Constitution and recommended that a referendum be held on thisamendment.10 Despite a debate in the National Assembly, the report did not havemuch of an impactin part because the government was not favourable to it.Eventually, the process leading up to constitutional reform got under way at the timeof the 1997 legislative elections. The Parti socialiste ensured that 30 per cent of itscandidates were women, which helped to double the number of women elected to theNational Assembly. In June 1998, one year after its electoral victory, the newgovernment, led by Socialist Lionel Jospin, in agreement with the President of theRepublic, announced its intention to modify article 3 of the Constitution; this wasaccomplished in July 1999 after a consensus was reached between the NationalAssembly (dominated by the Left) and the Senate (dominated by the Right). Whatcould have been a symbolic modification was strengthened by the subsequentmodification of the voting system requiring that political parties present a parityof women and men candidates in municipal, regional, legislative and Europeanelections as well as in some senatorial elections.

    These three phases show how the demand for parity evolved from first a parity ofelected officials, as advocated by the various parity and womens associations in the

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  • INTRODUCTION 9

    early 1990s, to a parity of candidates, as now required by law. While parity did notlead to a radical revamping of the French political system, it nevertheless triggered anumber of reforms in the area of womens rights including, for example: measuresfacilitating womens access to decision-making positions in the public service; theLaw of 9 May 2001 on professional equality that reinforces the provisions of theRoudy Law of 1983; the Law of 3 July 20...