In France, men and women are equal. Well - they are in the eyes of the law. They share parental authority and have the same civil and inheritance rights. They are also equal in the eyes of the law in terms of political equality (2000), which, however, authorises parties to present electoral lists containing less than 50% women in exchange for payment of a duty…, just as one buys international pollution rights.
Women control their reproduction through the right to abortion (1975, Veil Act) and contraception (1967, Neuwirth Act). And yet, although they are more qualified when they leave higher education, their professional career is affected as soon as they have children. Women are also paid 15% less than men for the same work. They are over-represented in the unemployment figures (60% are women) and in the figures for part-time workers (80%), although they continue to carry out two-thirds of household chores and to take responsibility for bringing up children.
France continues to rely on its laws to resolve social problems, and on 23 March 2006, a law on equal wages for men and women was adopted. This will reduce the number of the "residual" inequalities of parental maternity leave. Women will thus now benefit from salary increases awarded during their maternity or adoption leave, accumulate paid holiday rights, while employers will receive additional assistance with their replacement. This law also obliges the social partners to include salary equality in the mandatory collective annual negotiations in each industry sector. Objective: to remove pay differences by 31 December 2010. These negotiations are to be initiated by the employer, who will then be forced to comply by the unions if they fail to do so in the year following the promulgation of the Act. They must also include a section devoted to access to training and career promotion, since the law provides that parental leave of absence be included in calculation of the new individual right to training (20 hours) launched in May 2004.
France looks at good practice
What is the situation one year after the promulgation of this law, whose effectiveness depends to a great extent on the behaviour of company bosses, management unions and employees? No report has emerged, but a declaration was made by the Minister in charge of social cohesion and equality, Catherine Vautrin, on 7 March last in a speech to the Cabinet on the equality of the sexes, in the business world in particular. An "equality" label has been issued to 26 French companies, employing a total of 600,000 workers. Referring to government action in 2006, the Minister highlighted the new law, which is simply asking to be applied… Jacques Chirac, the President in office, encouraged the management unions and employees to "fully assess the requirements of this law", adding, "we need to end the unacceptable disparities in the treatment of women on the labour market and in the workplace".
So, aside from these exhortations, where exactly are we when it comes to the "requirements"? It is certainly too early to judge the effects of an Act whose application depends almost entirely on the good faith of company negotiators.
On 5 March last, the statistical service of the French Ministry for Employment, DARES, nevertheless published a survey entitled "male and female executives" in 2002: inequality of access to jobs and salary inequalities". Here we learned that, in 2002, only 15% of women working in a company were executives, as opposed to 23% of men; and, even if they are executives, women receive 20% less remuneration than their male counterparts.
In its report on world trends in the employment of women 2007, the ILO (International Labour Organisation) also warns against the feminisation of poor workers: "More and more women are unemployed", this report indicates, "or are restricted to the low-wage sectors of agriculture and services, or again are less well paid than men in comparable posts".
In France, the HALDE (Authority for Combating Discrimination), a body created just over two years ago (1) to find out about areas of discrimination and to ensure that anti-discrimination laws are implemented in practice, declared in a press release on 8 March that, although 6.6% of the 40% of complaints about employment denounced sex discrimination, "sex discrimination continues to play an important role despite the recent change in legislation in favour of professional equality between men and women". The body, which is faithful to its aim of combating discrimination in practical terms, listed actions to prevent discrimination, which were published in a guide and presented on its website, "since its good practices help to change mentalities and to make people aware of the benefits of diversity". This practical approach is a new one in the French political and social arena, where solemn declarations and laws too often replace action. This is a really welcome change.
[INFOnet - Renée David Aeschlimann]
(1) The Haute Autorité de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l´Egalité (HALDE - Authority for Combating Discrimination and Promoting Equality) is an independent administrative body created by the Act of 30 December 2004. Its objective is to combat discriminations prohibited by law, to supply all information required, to support victims, and to identify and promote good practices to ensure that the principle of equality becomes a reality. It has powers to proceed with investigations.
The HALDE issues opinions and recommendations to the government, to Parliament and to the authorities and draws up an annual report for the President of the Republic. It does not, however, have the power to impose sanctions.