Macron’s gender equality record ‘largely insufficient’

Men still hold the "strategic and prestigious positions" in politics, with the exception of the armed forces ministry, now led by Florence Parly and previously by Sylvie Goulard. [EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL MAXPPP OUT]

At the start of his term, French President Emmanuel Macron promised to increase gender equality. However, progress has been “largely insufficient” despite the implementation of several concrete measures, a report recently published by NGO Oxfam France has found. EURACTIV France reports.

“Power remains a male affair” under the leadership of Macron, the study‘s author, Sandra Lhote Fernandes has said. However, some efforts were made and are to be praised, notably in terms of female representation in institutions, she added.

Macron recently announced that he is running for re-election in April.

Men in high places

In the parliamentary group of Macron’s La République en Marche party, 48% of MPs are women, making it one of the parties with the highest female representation.

However, men still hold the “strategic and prestigious positions”, with the exception of the armed forces ministry, now led by Florence Parly and previously by Sylvie Goulard.

Ministerial cabinets are no exception, as they are 80% headed by men. On average, two-thirds of the advisers at the prime minister’s office in Matignon and at the Elysée are men.

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Increasing but insufficient budget 

France’s ministry in charge of women’s rights also saw its budget almost double from €27 million to more than €50 million since the start of Macron’s five-year presidency. With the gender equality budgets allocated to the justice and interior ministries, the amount rises to €1.3 billion.

However, this is “insufficient”, associations that contributed to the report said. They also said that the budget allocated to combating domestic violence is “three times lower than what is needed” – only €360 million out of the hoped-for €1 billion was unlocked for the sector by the government.

While the four laws aimed at fighting violence against women adopted during Macron’s term extended the statute of limitations for assaults on minors and generalised the mechanisms for protecting female violence victims, the report’s authors have accused the government of having chosen a “policy of small steps”.

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An implementation issue

What the associations find issue with in particular is how measures are implemented.

Courts do not sufficiently order the wearing of ankle bracelets, and when they do, almost a third are inactive. Among the measures made possible by the government, the seizure of perpetrators’ knives is still only rarely ordered.

Moreover, the gender equality ministry stated that only 90,000 out of the 250,000 police officers and gendarmes have been trained to deal with women who are victims of violence.

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Equality in the workplace

The government’s efforts on equality in the workplace, while praised, are also insufficient, the report also notes.

While introducing paternity leave in 2021, the optional four-week leave is a far cry from what fathers get elsewhere in Europe.

However, quotas for company management are seen as a major step forward, which, according to the report, should help “break the glass ceiling”, as was the case for boards of directors after the Copé-Zimmerman law was introduced in 2011.

Salary increases in female-dominated professions like healthcare are seen as a positive step even if the overall salary level of carers remains low regardless of gender.

The progress made on unpaid child support has been welcomed by single parents, who are mostly women. The state currently covers unpaid child support when the ex-spouse defaults and will be responsible to recover the unpaid amount from that same ex-spouse.

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Diplomacy, abortion and contraception

The report also welcomed the establishment of “feminist diplomacy”, which they believe should be pursued further.

France will advocate for gender equality at the international level, French Europe Minister Clément Beaune announced at the start of the month. France will also allocate €120 million to assist “feminist movements in the South” which are committed, among other things, to female entrepreneurship in Africa.

The organisations that drafted the report also welcomed the law extending the abortion deadline from 12 to 14 weeks, the introduction of assisted reproductive technology to female same-sex couples and single women, but also free contraception for women up to the age of 25. The fight against menstrual insecurity, which was previously “taboo”, is now part of the authorities’ commitments which “must be kept”, they added.

However, sexual and emotional education in schools, while compulsory, is not sufficiently respected – even though it would be a “formidable tool for promoting equality” between sexes and combating discrimination, the organisations that participated in the report also said.

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[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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