France Set to Enact Sweeping Changes to Sexual Equality Laws
France is to enact sweeping changes to its sexual equality laws on a par with granting women the vote and legalising abortion, a minister declared on Friday.
By Henry Samuel, Paris – December 2, 2012
The proposals will include “ABC of gender equality” lessons for children as young as six, the threat of imposing compulsory equal pay for men and women in the same jobs and tougher laws on domestic violence.
France’s women’s rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said: “This will become the third generation of equality legislation after women were given the right to vote in 1944 and abortion was legalised in 1975.”
She made the comments on the day France called its first cross-ministry meeting on women’s’ rights in 12 years.
New draft laws outlined yesterday will allow the courts to accelerate restraining orders and trials for violent male partners and provide females considered under threat of violence with free emergency mobile phones to alert police.
Employers will be inspected to ensure men and women receive equal pay, and could be forced by law to raise a women’s salary or lower a man’s to ensure fairness in large companies.
And starting next year, children will be given lessons in sexual equality while at primary school from the age of six to 11. The aim, said Miss Vallaud-Belkacem, was to “deconstruct stereotypes” deeply ingrained in French society.
France trumpets being the guardian of human rights, translated in French as “droits de l’homme” (men’s rights).
But the country currently languishes in 57th place in the World Economic Forum’s 2012 gender equality report – well behind Britain, in 18th place, but also Venezuela and the Kyrgiz Republic. It ranks almost last overall on the wage equality index – 129th out of 135 countries.
Latest studies suggest that women earn 27 per cent less than men for the same type of job, one in three women has only part-time work and their pensions are 40 per cent below that of men.
They conduct the vast majority of household chores while only 27 per cent of French MPs are female.
The assault on sexism and for gender equality came in a week that France’s former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy declared: “We don’t need to be feminist in my generation.” Instead she suggested a woman’s place is in the home with her children.
This led to a viral twitter campaign against her remarks and a statement from Miss Vallaud-Belkacem saying: “We need everyone to be a feminist. Feminism is the fight for the equality of sexes, not for the domination of one sex over another.”
It came on the day Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a one-time Socialist presidential hopeful, reportedly neared a civil settlement with a New York maid who alleged he raped her. The case, which erupted last year, sparked nationwide soul-searching into French attitudes to sexism.
The changes come just six months after MPs sparked outrage among feminists when some wolf-whistled a female minister who walked into the parliamentary chamber wearing a floral, knee-length dress.
In 2010, former president Nicolas Sarkozy introduced a law meaning married couples could be jailed for verbally insulting each other during domestic arguments.
The new offence of ‘psychological violence’ – aimed at protecting women from abusive men – covers violent threats, false accusations of infidelity and even insults over a partner’s appearance, and is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Earlier this year, Mr Sarkozy’s government also issued a decree abolishing the term Mademoiselle from all official documents because it suggests a woman is available and stems from the word “virgin”.
The word – the Gallic equivalent of “Miss” – forces women to reveal that they are unmarried, the ministers said.
The same law also banned the phrase ‘nom de jeune fille’ meaning ‘maiden name’ from all paperwork.