French plan to harmonise women’s rights wins EU supporters

RS women4.jpg

Brussels is warming up to the idea of harmonising women's rights across Europe, an idea launched by a French lawyer, whose call to apply the best laws across member states is beginning to attract supporters.

The so-called 'Clause de l’Européenne la plus favorisée', launched by French lawyer Gisèle Halimi and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, co-founders of the French association Choisir la cause des femmes, was presented yesterday (8 March) at the European Parliament, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Women's Day.

The clause aims to harmonise European legislation to secure the same rights for all European women on the basis of 14 national laws most favourable to women.

It is designed to widen the scope of EU directives on gender discrimination, which are limited to employment, to include all aspects of daily life, such as social protection, education, accessibility and housing.

Naming and shaming exercise

According to comparisons carried out by the French association, Sweden stands out with its well-paid parental leave, part of which is reserved for fathers.

Spain is exemplary for its legislation against domestic violence and France for its laws regarding rape.

Sweden has sought to eliminate prostitution by criminalising it for prostitutes and clients alike, while Lithuania has taken precautions against sexual harassment in its employment laws.

France scored highly on all aspects of women's work, whereas Belgium wins on the subject of absolute gender parity in all elections.

These are all examples which could be mainstreamed across Europe, Halimi believes.

"Women's rights are currently under threat in all member states. You can see this in particular in the right to abortion or employment law, where the crisis has further accentuated inequalities. Therefore we must remain attentive and renew on a regular basis the study that was done for the clause," pointed out Elisabeth Riboud, national secretary of the organisation 'Choisir la cause des femmes'.

The work is carried out by the Institute of Gender Equality in Vilnius, which is expected to issue within the next year a comparative study on women's rights in EU member states.

Political support

Halimi's clause idea has already progressed through the maze of French politics.

The French parliament adopted last year a resolution that aims to engage France in harmonising women's rights across Europe on the basis of the clause.

French Socialists & Democrats MEP Pervenche Berès, chair of the European Parliament's employment and social committee, has proposed to author an own-initiative report on such a clause.

French European People's Party MEP Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, vice-president of the Parliament's women's rights and gender equality committee, also wants the clause to be discussed by MEPs.

The French minister for solidarity and social cohesion, Roselyne Bachelot, is among the leading supporters of the clause. Reportedly, Bachelot presented Halimi's clause to EU social affairs ministers on 6 December.

Bachelot also was instrumental in pushing the institute in Vilnius to further develop the case in favour of such a clause.

Is harmonisation feasible?

The French organisation believes harmonisation is possible. But not everybody agrees, even in France.

"The clause is a very good idea, which makes sense and could help national legislation evolve," said Brigitte Grésy, a top French official on social affairs, stressing that a comparative exercise would be beneficial and stimulating.

"Nonetheless, an integral transposition of a law in the other member states is difficult as every law responds to a specific context that differs from the context in the other member states," added Grésy.

She cited in particular the example of a Norwegian law to establish a 40% quota of women in board rooms, which she defended before the French government.

"France adopted this law at the end of January, but not with the same sanctions [Norway prescribes the dissolution of the company in case of breach of the quotas, France only the annulment of the appointment], otherwise the law would never have passed," she said.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel preferred to allow companies to set their own quotas and promised that they would take stock within two years. Elisabeth Riboud remains optimistic, however.

"In effect, we realise that such an enterprise is technically difficult. But Europe is still young and under construction. We must give it time," she said.

Emilie Binois for EURACTIV and


Gender equality is a key political objective for the EU and a central facet of its non-discrimination strategy. It is also considered important for achieving the EU's economic and social goals as enshrined in the EU 2020 blueprint for sustainable economic growth.

The Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010 defines existing areas and proposes new areas of action, namely: equal economic independence for women and men, reconciliation of private and professional life, equal representation in decision-making, eradication of all forms of gender-based violence, elimination of gender stereotypes and promotion of gender equality in external and development policies.

Politically, the Barroso II Commission has also taken a strongly pro-equality line. When putting together his team, Barroso pushed member states to nominate female commissioners, yet the number of women chosen (nine out of 27) ended up matching that of the previous term. In Europe, only 24% of national MPs and 27% of government members are female.

Subscribe to our newsletters