Yesterday the second tour of parliamentary elections in France gave victory to 223 women. This result represents an absolute record regarding the presence of women in the French Parliament.
In details, the parties with the highest percentage of women in their ranks are the party of president Emmanuel Macron, La Republique en Marche (47% of women), centrist MoDem (46%) and France Insoumise (41%).
Women’s representation in French politics still appears to be an important challenge. The country that as the first one instituted the universal suffrage for men, was one of the last ones in Europe to give the same rights to women.
In 1944 French women, after various failed attempts, were finally granted with voting rights. In 1945 women occupied 33 out of 586 seats in the Constituent Assembly.
However the end of the WWII also meant a return to the traditionalist order, where women’s place was limited to the private sphere. In 1958 many social and political changes took place during the birth of the Vth Republic of France. However, greater women’s empowerment was not one of them. General de Gaulle, the same politician who in 1944 granted women with voting rights considered that politics are exclusively a men’s game and that women were “destabilizing agent within the political body”. Unsurprisingly, the number of women decreased in comparison with the IVth Republic.
In 1979 French women gained new political legitimacy, mainly thanks to the European Union. The election of Simone Veil as the president of the European Parliament increased public approval for women’s presence in the political debate.
This wind of change was even stronger with the arrival of Francois Mitterrand in 1981. Mitterrand, convinced that modernity is strictly linked to gender equality, called for a more equal representation in politics. During his tenure (1981 – 1995) women started to slowly impose themselves on the political stage.
Nevertheless, the change was so insignificant that in the end of the 1980s intellectuals and women’s rights militants made a new and radical demand: gender quotas.
Although expressed in the beginning by militants, politicians from different boards joint the project. This unusual coalition was probably behind the success of the law that took a little bit more than ten years to be achieved.
In 2000 the French Parliament approved the “parity law”. Following this law, parties are obliged to present on their list an equal number of men and women. The non-compliance with the law is punished with a loss of financial support.
Nevertheless, in the first 10 years the parity law did produce the desired results, mainly because of the attitude of the biggest parties. While French citizens were open to the idea of a bigger presence of women in politics, some parties preferred to lose the State support and to maintain the same candidates for election. In consequence, in 2007 women represented only 18,5% of members of parliament.
In 2012 the Socialist Party won the elections and women increased their presence with 27% of mandates. Five years later, women makes the historical score of 38,65%.
This breakthrough can be linked to the revolution that is currently sweeping French political scene. New political parties that replaced traditional political organisations respected the parity law, offering an easier access to women. Moreover, women actively acting on the political stage stopped to be seen as an exception. The normalisation of their image allowed their empowerment and increased the popular support of the female leadership.