French women in politics
by Juliette Fournil on March 16, 2015 - 12:33pm
At the end of the departmental elections on 22nd and 29th March, half of departmental councils will be women.
It will be a great step for parity – but not for equality. Up to that point, departmental councils were dominated by men but they will become the place for the women's breakthrough in political assembly elected by majority vote : in each canton, the electors will not vote for one candidate (man or woman) but for a duo with a woman and a man. So there will be as many women as men in each departmental council.
Already with the 26th February 2008 law, efforts were made towards the parity as the candidate and his second had to be of opposite gender. But, in practice, it was often one man-tenure holder and one woman-second. It is exactly what Cecile Duflot described ironically when she was the national secretary from Les Verts1 : « What is the female of candidate to the cantonal elections? - Second. »
Indeed we have come a long way: the first woman who presides a department is Evelyne Baylet in 1970. Nevertheless, French nationals elect departmental representatives by majority vote since 1848. Currently, they are only 5 out of 101! In the last elections in 2011, 13,8 % of the people who represent a department are women.
So we, politically participant citizens, had to push the unwritten norms but deeply rooted in the political parties. This is the aim of this constraint. And this is no more only financial penalties. 13,8 % of women in departmental assemblies to 50 % would be a great change. It is very likely to transform behaviors and mentalities. Indeed this lack of women in politics can be explained with the concept of « gender status beliefs ». The sociologist Cecilia L. Rigeway2 writes that inequalities between men and women come from daily interactions and especially the fact that we generally are expecting more from men than women. For example, we are thinking that a man is stronger emotionally than a woman. These kinds of stereotypes orientate actions to a « self-fulfilling prophecy ». « The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception comes true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. »3 This element could be an explanation to the fact that women are under-represented in politics or in economy and other significant positions.
That's why we must bear in mind that the progression of women in electoral mandates doesn't mean an equal repartition of responsibilities. Of course this law is intended to symbolize a psychological revolution but it will be necessary to take a look at the results to see how many women will be appointed to the head of a departmental executive. Indeed if this law is important in view of political relationships, it doesn't do everything. It would be more efficient if it was accompanied with a real status of women (such as the consideration of the professional and family shackles about which they have to face).
1Today, EELV (Europe Ecologie Les Verts)
2Rigdway, Interaktion und die Hartnäckigkeit der Geschlecter-Ungleichheit in der Arbeitswelt, 2001
3K. Robert Merton, Sociologist