France still has a long way to go towards gender equality

Opinie, gepost door: Helmi De Jong op 24/12/2019 12:03:45

France’s ambiguous relationship between genders is durable and potent, reaching far into all ramifications of society. In the high spheres of business, in the common workplace, in households and in society, women still struggle to find their place and must face staunch resistance. Positive initiatives are starting to see the light, but the road is long before women are fully recognized.

Insufficiently protected in society and in households

Women in France have had to face a long history of violence, which can be found in many forms, and which triggers little or no response from public authorities. Be it psychological, such as street or office harassment, or in more visible forms, as in domestic abuse, women in France have long endured the violence of men and had few people to turn to. In 2018, a political movement ignited, to bring violence against women to an end, after decades - or centuries - of governmental idleness in response. CNN reporter Saskya Vandoorne writes: “Dibon is one of at least 137 women in France to die at the hands of their partner in 2019, according to advocacy group "Feminicides par compagnon ou ex" who track the issue. Last year the figure was 121, according to the government. The country's failure to come to grips with the crisis has sparked fury from critics who say France has a problem with misogyny, and led the government to announce a national debate on domestic violence.
On Saturday, about 35,000 people wearing purple clothes marched in the streets of Paris to protest against femicide and violence against women, a spokesperson with the Paris Police Prefecture said.” Despite rising political awareness on the matter, no drop in fatalities has yet been reported, and women in France still remain at risk.

France’s persistent gender pay gap

Despite recent progress, France is still a long hike away from pay equality between genders, and the gap is expected to remain for nearly half a century - if efforts remain at the same level as today. Economic analyst Karen Gilchrist writes: “Those results position the U.S. in line with the Australia, France and the U.K., all of which have recorded a reduction in their gender pay gap since Glassdoor’s previous study in 2016. In Germany, however, the gender pay gap has widened. According to Glassdoor’s study of more than half a million salary reports from employees in eight leading economies, France had the smallest unadjusted pay gap in 2019, at 11.6 percent, followed by Singapore (12.8 percent).” French women still consistently earn 12% less than their male colleagues, today. Pay equality was voted into law, years ago, but markets have so far to respond in a satisfactory way.

Women are massively under-represented in the business world, despite good results

The Paris business scene is currently providing the world with an example of how much progress has to be made in the recognition of women’s contribution to big business, in France. The French CAC 40, the 40 largest French companies, are exclusively headed by men. French energy giant Engie is operated by general manager Isabelle Kocher who, despite excellent results, was denied the title of CEO in 2018, and maintained under the chairmanship of Gerard Mestrallet. Point in case: Isabelle Kocher has achieved the environmental and digital transformation of Engie, which was long thought as an outdated firm and impossible to reform, reaping many accolades along the way. European CEO writes: “Kocher’s ascent to CEO of Engie, completed in 2016, was not without some controversy. While Mestrallet was long expected to leave when Kocher was appointed CEO, he has in fact stayed on as Chairman [...] Kocher’s appointment also represents a new achievement in terms of women taking up high-ranking positions in European companies. She is only the second woman to run a CAC 40 listed company, with Pat Russo’s stint as head of Alcatel-Lucent from 2006 to 2008 being the first.” But her successful strategy is getting on the nerves of current president Jean-Pierre Clamadieu and other top male managers, to the extent that rumors suggest she may be relieved from her position shortly. Should this happen (Engie is owned at 25% by the French State, her eviction would therefore require the government to accept it), her disappearance from the higher levels of the business world would not go unnoticed, as she is virtually the only female managing director in France’s top companies.

Is hope gleaming through Emmanuel Macron’s window?

The fate of French women may, however, be about to start changing, with President Emmanuel Macron’s political initiatives starting to come into effect. Sociological analyst Emmanuel Benard writes: “Equality between men and women has been declared in France a "great national cause" of Emmanuel Macron's Presidency in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In March 2018, the French government unveiled an action plan for gender equality in the workplace consisting of ten measures aiming at reducing the gender pay gap and five measures to fight sexual and gender based violence.” Emmanuel Macron is two years away from the end of his terms, but is considered to have a decent shot at reelection. If so, two terms (five years, in France) will not be excessive to curb one of France’s longest-lasting woes. Even so, any political commitment would need to be pursued and reinforced until the end of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, and pursued by the next incumbent of the Elysée palace, for any substantial effect to be achieved. But, so far, Emmanuel Macron has proven the most effective women’s advocate in the history of the French presidency.

Will a charismatic president be enough to bridge gaps between genders, and bring the violence which women have faced for generations, to an end? By all accounts, it is, so far, much too early to tell. But the fight for women’s rights and their recognition will necessarily be multi-faceted: women in France are facing discrimination and fighting an uphill battle on all fronts: at home, at the office, and commuting in between.

Tags: Gender pay gap

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