Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Women's Representation in French Politics

A main area of study within political science is gender gaps and the causes of gender gaps. This area of study has been connected with gaps in education, work, and political involvement. While it is widely known that gender gaps do exist some countries are seeking for gender parity or more specifically better representation of women in political offices. Grasping women’s political representation in France can be achieved through understanding the current level of gender parity, the Parity law, and the 2007 Presidential election.
Table A
The representation of women in the French political sphere can be grasped by understanding France’s current state of gender parity. It is understood that gender parity refers to the equality of men and women in political offices. Referring to Table 1 shows that France currently is ranked 37th in gender parity in relation to women in Lower or Single Houses. France’s 26.9% of women representation in the Lower House in comparison to Rwanda’s 56.3% shows that France’s current level of women representation can greatly improve. When inspecting the level of women’s representation of the Upper House it shows a decrease in percentage than that of the Lower House. One reason for this lower percentage of representation is explained by Rainbow Murray, “Women tend to enter parliament later than men, with fewer political resources at the local level. Their careers tend to be shorter, and the gendered division of labour is perpetuated in the National Assembly through segregation of parliamentary committees. As a result, it is harder for women to progress in their political careers and to reach the political summit (Murray 2010).” Murray’s explanation provides an insight into why women representation is lower in the Upper House. Although there are higher gaps in representation for women on a higher political level the main focus is on overall political gender gap. In an article by Zoe Williams she states, “Due to very inflexible rules about the pool from which the political class is draw. All politicians come from the highly competitive set of graduate schools Les Grandes Ecoles which, until recently, had only a smattering of women, and none at all in Polytechnique (Williams 2011).” Although different laws, one of which will be discussed later, have helped gender parity Williams’ theory suggests that since less women attend these schools they have an unequal chance of being in pool where candidates are chosen. Understanding the current levels of women representation in France’s government provides a foundation for seeing how the Parity law has affected gender parity.
The Parity law provides a greater understanding of the level of gender parity in France. An article on the BBC News website simplifies the Parity law, “France introduced a law in 2000 aimed at creating parity between the sexes in parliament. The law says all parties must either ensure that 50% of their candidates in any poll are women, or face financial penalties (BBC News 2006).” The Parity law has greatly increased the level of political participation for women in France. A 2001 article by Rachel Alembakis provides statistics for the proportion of women in government before the Parity law took effect, “France has a lower proportion of women serving in public office than any of her neighbors in the European Union. Women make up 10% of the national parliament (Alembakis 2001).” Referring again to Table A we can see that there has been over a 15% increase in women representation since the Parity law. The Parity law shows France’s desire to give women a more equal chance and it also encourages women to become more politically active. Both consequences help France in the goal of gender parity. The Parity law not only increases the level of women’s political participation but also provides a greater chance for women to reach higher levels of office in France.
The 2007 French Presidential election provides information that increases knowledge of women’s representation in France. Many see the 2007 Presidential elections as one of great importance mainly because one of the Presidential candidates was a woman. Ségolène Royal was chosen as the French Socialist candidate to go against the eventual presidential winner, Nicolas Sarkozy. The great importance of this election was the fact that it was very rare for a woman to be elected as a Presidential candidate by a major party. Rainbow Murray gives an explanation of how Royal’s candidacy helped gender parity, “While Royal’s presidential bid was not successful, it set an important precedent, demonstrating that a woman was capable of qualifying to the second round of a presidential contest. The idea of women in leadership positions has become normalized, and it is no longer remarkable to see a woman in a position of power (Murray 2010).”  I feel that what Ségolène Royal accomplished in becoming a Presidential candidate was one of the greatest proponents for gender equality in France. Changing gendered societal norms, I believe, is the hardest part of reaching equality in a political world. Those norms are so ingrained in each person that many times it is not recognized when a person is subject to those norms. This is why I feel that Royal’s presidential bid was so important to the French political system. Although, there is still a disparity between men and women in France that gap is continuing to be closed and Ségolène Royal’s presidential candidacy was a proponent in helping erase the gender gap.
Equality of men and women in politics is something that no country is perfect at but it is something that many countries are working towards. Specifically, France has made strides to close the gender gap. Understanding the gender gap or women’s political representation in France is better understood through knowledge about the current level of gender parity, the Parity law, Ségolène Royal’s 2007 presidential bid. These different variables show how France is heading towards a more equal representation of genders in government and in the years to come I can see France continuing to close the gender gap within politics. 

Alembakis, Rachel. France's new rules put more women in politics. Post-Gazette. Accessed October 8, 2012. http://old.post-gazette.com/headlines/20010311france4.asp
France Boosts Women Politicians. BBC News. Accessed October 9, 2012. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6192864.stm
Murray, Rainbow. "Women in French Politics: Still le deuxieme sexe?" Modern and Contemporary France. Vol. 18, No.4, Nov. 2010 (411-414).
Williams, Zoe. New Europe: Why France's gender code makes life hard for women. The Guardian. Accessed October 8, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/25/new-europe-france-women-gender-code.

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