"The French government is committed to equalizing the male and female employment rate by 2025."
Empowering women with the ability to control their sexual and reproductive life is fundamental to achieving gender equality. Contraception has been legal in France since 1967 and abortion since 1975. In 2013, France adopted legislation requiring the government to pay for all legal abortions, as well as contraception for girls between 15 and 18. For adult women, most contraceptives are reimbursed by the National Health Insurance Scheme. 

The holistic French approach to reproductive health care has proved effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies, especially among teenagers,(1) while leading to an increase in the nation’s birth rate. With nearly two children on average per woman, France has the highest fertility rate in the European Union. The quality of care is also reflected by the low infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio.

Promoting Equality in the Workplace
Women’s participation in the labor force has continuously increased over the past 2 decades. It is currently 67 percent, up from 58 percent in 1990. The French government is committed to equalizing the male and female employment rate by 2025.

The first law on equal pay and gender equality in employment dates back to 1972. No fewer than 12 pieces of legislation were passed between 1972 and 2014. As in many other fields, the main issue is to make the law a reality. In 2014, France’s gender wage gap was 14 percent, compared with 15.5 percent on average in the OECD countries.

Initiatives relating to the equal treatment of working men and women were hampered for a long time by a persistent lack of awareness and commitment. That situation led to the establishment of enforcement mechanisms in 2010. Companies that do not show progress on workplace equality face monthly fines of up to 1 percent of their payroll. In addition, companies that fail to respect legal requirements in terms of gender equality cannot access public procurement processes. 

Advancement toward Gender Equality in Decision Making 
The French Constitution was amended in order to introduce the goal of gender parity in elective positions, as well as in social and professional responsibilities. After much debate, quotas were adopted to increase women’s participation in key areas of decision making. 

In 2011, it was determined that the number of women serving on corporate boards had to reach at least 20 percent by 2014 and 40 percent by 2017.(2) So far, results have exceeded expectations: in 2014, 56 percent of the board members appointed by large companies(3) were women, bringing the total number of female board members to 30 percent, a higher number than required by law.

In politics, quotas for candidate lists for local elections dramatically increased women’s presence in elected office: in 1999, women accounted for 27.5 percent of the members of regional councils(4) in France. They account for 48 percent today. Moreover, women make up 50 percent of the current Cabinet. This makes France the third-largest OECD country in terms of the number of female government ministers in 2015.

Work on Progress: From Legal Equality to Real Equality 
Beyond legislation, addressing gender stereotypes is key to progressing toward real equality. Gender stereotypes in education and media is a new area of public awareness, debate, and policy development. The French broadcasting authorities have been tasked with improving the image of women in the media. Targets have been set and are monitored on a yearly basis.

Education is another area where it is possible to fight stereotypes early on. It starts with the training of teachers and continues with the students. In addition to programs that encourage more girls to enter technical and scientific fields, a pilot project was recently implemented in primary schools to educate young children on gender issues and counter gender stereotypes. 

We might not yet have achieved perfect gender equality. But there is a strong political will, which is evident in recent results.

In the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum,(5) France was one of the countries with the highest improvement relative to its score in 2006. It ranked 16th out of 142 countries and 1st in women’s health and education. 

As emphasized 20 years ago in Beijing, human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. France is determined to make this a reality on its own soil and will resolutely contribute, regardless of the challenges, to make it a reality all over the world. • 

(1) The teenage pregnancy rate in France is 3 per 1,000, while it is 4 times higher in Great Britain and 10 times higher in the United States. 

(2) This applies to boards of publicly listed companies, as well as unlisted companies with more than 500 workers and average revenues or total assets of more than 50 million euros during the past 3 consecutive years.

(3) More than 1 billion euros in capital.

(4) Elected assembly of a region.

(5) The Global Gender Gap Index ranks 142 countries on the gap between women and men on health, education, economic, and political indicators.

about the author
Claire Aubin is currently counselor for labor, health, and social issues at the Embassy of France to the United States. She was the French general rapporteur for the Fourth World Conference on Women and was then elected to the Commission on the Status of Women of the United Nations, where she sat as the French representative from 1995 to 1997.


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