Wednesday, June 6, 2007


Today is the seventh anniversary of the Parity Law, which was adopted on June 6, 2000. The law imposes a penalty on any party that runs slates of candidates in which the number of men differs from the number of women by more than two percent. Despite the law, the parties have preferred to forfeit part of the subsidy they receive from the state. They claim that there are not enough qualified female candidates to fill the slots available (and in a country where a recent survey reported that only 8 percent of women read a newspaper regularly, this claim may have a basis in fact).

Of the parties, the UMP has historically been the least paritaire. In 2002 only 19.7 percent of its candidates were women, and under the Parity Law it therefore forfeited 30.4 percent of its state subsidy, or over 4 million euros. The UDF counted 19.9 percent women among its candidates, and the PS 34.6 percent. (Source here.) In 2007, only 14.55 percent of French parliamentarians are women (compare US 16.3 and Sweden 47.3).

So it is not insignificant that Nicolas Sarkozy promised to have a paritaire government and followed through when elected. Seven of fifteen ministers in the Fillon government are women. Women hold some of the most important portfolios, including interior and justice. Most of the seven female ministers have independent stature, moreover; they do not owe their positions solely to the favor of Sarkozy. I've discussed Alliot-Marie, Dati, and Pecresse elsewhere in this blog. But consider Christine Lagarde, the minister of agriculture and fisheries. One of the many lawyers in the Fillon government, she was named "one of the most powerful women in the world" by Forbes Magazine in 2005.

So, progress. One step remains to be taken, however: I've yet to see (perhaps I've missed it) a female minister jogging with the president. I look forward to the day.

For deep historical background on gender and politics in France, one can do no better than Judith Surkis's new book, Sexing the Citizen.

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