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



Your article clearly depicts the issue that women are unrepresented in decision-making. This is why they should continue to fight for their rights and equal representation. An international organization that could help the issue is the National Organization for Women, which devotes itself in fighting for women rights. They are activist and highly involved in activities promoting their causes.

Hello Juliette,

thanks for your article. I find it really interesting which means are used in France to increase the number of women in politics. To vote for a couple which is built by a man and a women - I have never heard of this idea before.

I believe it is a good step into the right direction. Similar to the quota for women in leading positions, it is a means to show that women also can be good leaders, managers or - as in your case - politicians. It's exactly as you put it in the phrase "It is very likely to transform behaviors and mentalities."

Anyway, there are of course also problems: It's not only the one you mentioned - that women will mostly become second in the department council. But also that the difference between the two sexes is emphasized by putting together couples. And what about the people who do not see themselves as female nor as male?

Obviously, this means is not perfect but in my point of view it could be a first step (which is conducted in a nation-wide institution!) which might finally at some point lead to equality.

Best wishes

Hi ! Thank you for your both comments.
I have never heard of this organization but I took a look of their website ( and I find they do a lot of interesting things. They seem to be very organized and to have a lot of members.
Jennifer, I think also that it is a good step because it is important to bring women on the political scene and then, they will be able to show what they can do. Thus, people will be understand that women can do the job as well as men. Quotas are - in my point of view - really required : otherwise women will not be at the head of important positions because people don't trust them.

In your article you a very much up-to-date issue. I like that. Your post is quite informative, especially if for example I want to compare the number of women in French politics to the one in German Politics. Nonetheless I would recommend that you dig into more scientific explanations for this phenomena. The reasons for the described problems are clear, yet the explanations fall a bit short. Now let us hope that change happens and more women will find their way into French politics. Well, maybe not Marie Le Pen, but that is another problem for another time.

About the author

I'm Juliette. I come from France and I will study political science and economy for two semester in Potsdam. I'm very interested in international relations and gender studies, that's why I decided to follow this lecture. I'll probably be part of Amnesty International Potsdam.