French presidential election: what are the challenges for women?

Gender equality has otherwise figured little in a campaign dominated by the war in Ukraine and the cost of living, but feminist organizations and academics are nonetheless working to highlight the main challenges women in the country will face. faced over the next five years, including femicide, gender-based Islamophobia, wage inequality and precarious employment.

An Oxfam France report published last month put it this way: “Gender equality: big cause, small results”. The report notes that the €1.3 billion allocated to all gender equality measures represents only 0.25% of the total national budget. In contrast, a collective of feminist groups are calling on whoever the next president is to invest 1 billion euros in domestic violence alone during his first 100 days in office.
This is the first presidential election since the #MeToo movement began in 2017, along with associated campaigns such as #MeTooIncest, which sparked a wave of testimonies from survivors and led the government to toughen laws around the age of consent, raising it to 15 generally. and 18 in case of incest.
“There has been progress. We can’t deny it,” says Maëlle Noir, a member of the #NousToutes collective, which campaigns against gender-based violence in France. But Noir says the “sausage” of policies associated with violence against women, which include the introduction of fines for street harassment, will not succeed without deeper reforms, such as examining the role of the system judicial.
As part of a national survey of domestic violence in 2019, a government analysis found that 80% of complaints were dropped by prosecutors. And in a case that has become a symbol of police failures to tackle domestic violence, Chahinez Daoud, 31, was murdered by her ex-husband outside her home last year after police first failed to inform her that he had been released from prison – where he had served time for violence against her – and then failed to follow up on a subsequent assault complaint.
The Interior Department declined to respond to CNN’s request for comment on police handling of domestic violence cases due to restrictions placed on government officials during the presidential campaign period.
Since 2017, 640 women have been killed by a current or former partner, according to the voluntary organization Femicides by a Partner or Ex, which compiles its statistics from media reports.
In addition to demanding mandatory training to deal with intimate partner violence for police and all public officials who come into contact with survivors, Noir says #WeAll is advocating for a large-scale public awareness campaign based on former President Jacques Chirac’s very successful program on road safety. , which included consistent public messaging from the Élysée and saw road deaths drop by 40%.
For many French feminists, Macron’s choice of far-right Gérald Darmanin as interior minister in 2020 is an original sin hard to forgive. Darmanin was under investigation for rape when he was given the job, through which he is in charge of the police. This appointment prompted hundreds of women to take to the streets in protest.
“The message sent was completely stunning,” says Léa Chamboncel, host of the French political podcast Popol and author of the book More Women in Politics!. For feminists, “after that it was done, over, over,” she says.
A lawyer for Darmanin called the charges unfounded and Macron defended his decision based on the presumption of innocence, saying he trusted the minister “as a man to man”. The investigation was closed in 2021 and prosecutors requested a formal dismissal earlier this year.
Darmanin was also the public face of France’s ‘separatism’ law, passed in 2021, which gave the government new powers to close mosques, exercise greater control over religious charities and NGOs, and refuse entry. home schooling in some cases. The law was intended to bolster official Republican values ​​and combat Islamist extremism, but civil rights advocates say it has had a chilling effect on the wider Muslim population, in a country where veiled women in particular have often been the target of debates on laïcité, the French version of laïcité.

“The law reshapes most public freedoms by weakening them,” notes Rim-Sarah Alouane, lawyer and researcher at Toulouse Capitole University. “It affects a whole range of people, but the law was designed to frame and control Muslims. And the first victims will be Muslim women.”

In a recent TweeterMacron’s projected opponent in the second round, the far right Marine Le Pen, illustrated her proposal to include “the fight against communitarianism” in the French constitution with the image of a veiled woman with a blurred face.

Le Pen, who describes herself as a feminist, has struggled to soften her image in recent years.

“She deliberately put in place a strategy of feminization,” said Chamboncel, adding that the leader of the National Rally had “normalized” her party and made it a point to promote more women in her campaign. Before the 2012 election, 19% of women said they would vote for the far right according to the Ifop polling institute; 10 years later, this figure has risen to 34%.
An analysis of gender equality policies in the manifestos of the 12 presidential candidates by a team of postgraduate students from the University of Sciences Po outlined Le Pen’s agenda, which is light on gender measures. gender equality, as “femonationalist”. In a “Letter to French Women” published on International Women’s Day, Le Pen pledged to expel immigrants who engage in street harassment if she becomes France’s first female president.

“During the health crisis, we applauded all these essential jobs, which are 80-90% held by women. But we do not recognize their value.”

Rachel Silvera, Economist

In a context of rising inflation, Le Pen campaigned fiercely on the cost of living. But she is one of the few candidates not to have proposed raising the minimum wage, a policy that would have an outsized effect on women, who make up 59% of those employed at that wage. Macron’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, has pledged to raise the minimum wage by €25 a month from this summer.
The left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon proposed a larger increase, of 131 euros per month. In a broad program of gender equality, he also promised to allocate the billion euros demanded by feminist organizations to fight against domestic violence.
Many women earning minimum wage are the “essential workers” the country has become dependent on during the pandemic in occupations where the workforce is almost entirely female, such as home care, nursing and labor. social.
“During the health crisis, we applauded and praised the merits of all these essential jobs, which are 80 to 90% occupied by women”, explains economist Rachel Silvera of the University of Paris-Nanterre, who heads the Labor Market and Gender research group. “But we don’t recognize their value.”
Silvera points out that while women have been hit hard by Covid-19 in the past two years, France has so far escaped the massive dropouts in the labor force seen in other countries thanks to the extension of unemployment benefits. partial throughout the health crisis. But at 16%, the gender pay gap in France remains slightly above the EU average of 13%.

For the next presidential term, Silvera says the best way to reduce economic inequality between men and women would be to raise wages in these heavily feminized professions. So far, Macron’s gender equality policies have mostly helped women “at the top of the pyramid”, she says.

The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 52 years to close the gender gap in Western Europe. That’s more than ten times longer than the next president will have to make a dent in gender inequality. It may take several more “great causes” before France achieves its founding ideal of equality – equality.


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