News for 4 May 2012 has been taken from The Guardian.
He has promised an equal number of men and women in cabinet, and to reintroduce a ministry of women’s rights. But will François Hollande be the president who finally took on the pervasive sexism in French politics, if as polls predict he wins Sunday’s presidential election?
The Socialist frontrunner, who was on Friday leading by at least five points in the final opinion polls of an increasingly vitriolic campaign, is under pressure to prove he will shake up his image of a middle-aged man surrounded by middle-aged men. Voting in the first round showed women favoured the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, over the man bidding to become the first Socialist to win a presidential election since 1988.
Hollande has sought to portray himself as a feminist, and recently won the backing of a petition of more than 150 feminists. He has said he will reintroduce a ministry of women’s rights and has promised an equal number of women and men in government if he wins. This would be historic. It was something Sarkozy promised in 2007, but never achieved, despite the media spotlight on figures such as the justice minister Rachida Dati.
Sarkozy retorted this week that it is not the number of women in government that matters but their seniority. “I appointed the first woman finance minister in France,” he said of Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund. It is a charge Hollande is vulnerable to. In March, he told women at his campaign headquarters: “It would be good in principle to have as many men as women in a government.” He then added: “That is not to say the responsibilities would be the same.”
Marie-Jo Zimmermann, an MP for Sarkozy’s UMP party, and head of the women’s rights delegation in parliament, described the comments as “scandalous”, warning women could not simply be relegated to junior cabinet posts.
Several women in Hollande’s team are being tipped for key positions. Martine Aubry, the first woman leader of the Socialist party and a former minister for employment and solidarity, had been touted as a possible prime minister but is now seen as more likely to take a ministry. France has only had one woman PM, the Socialist Edith Cresson, who served for less than a year.
New faces, who were children when the last Socialist president, François Mitterrand came to power, include Aurélie Filippetti, a former ecologist and MP in Lorraine, who heads the culture team in Hollande’s campaign, and Delphine Batho, an MP in western France, both of whom could take posts. Fleur Pellerin, a state auditor, who was born in South Korea, is Hollande’s adviser on digital issues and is seen as an important diversity figure, as is Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, one of Hollande’s spokeswomen, who hopes to run for parliament in Lyon in June.
Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s ex-partner, who was defeated by Sarkozy in 2007, has had an increasing presence in the campaign and is tipped as a possible head of parliament, the first time the post would have gone to a woman.
Hollande has also promised to clamp down on equal pay for men and women, and vowed to enforce the law on political parties fielding equal numbers of men and women in parliamentary elections. Women MPs make up 18.5% of the French parliament, compared with 21% in the UK, 33% in Germany and 46% in Sweden.
Despite two men facing each other in Sunday’s runoff, the campaign has not been devoid of the kind of creeping sexism that France had hoped to put behind it. Sarkozy raised feminist hackles this week when he observed “a woman’s life is more difficult than a man’s because she has three lives: a mother’s life, a working life, and a sentimental life” – as if men had no need to juggle the same responsibilities.
One MP in Sarkozy’s ruling rightwing party called Hollande’s partner, Valerie Trierweiler, a rottweiler, before adding that was “unfair to the dog” and commenting on the comparative ugliness of former women ministers in Sarkozy’s government. Trierweiler was furious when her employer, the magazine Paris Match, put her on its cover under the headline “Hollande’s charming asset”. The Green candidate Eva Joly complained she had been the victim of ageism, sexism and xenophobia, calling herself the “Menopausal Norwegian woman”. Sarkozy, when attacked over his bling habits at the start of his presidency, blamed his ex-wife.
Women’s groups have been pleased to find equality issues on Hollande’s agenda but will be holding him to account. He has now promised one of his first priorities will be to pass a law on sexual harassment.
- French socialist candidate Francois Hollande promises gender equity in cabinet positions (rawstory.com)
- French election: final polls suggest swing to Nicolas Sarkozy (guardian.co.uk)
- Francois Hollande’s wife Valerie Trierweiler wants to be France’s new First Lady (dailymail.co.uk)
- French will swarm into UK if Hollande triumphs in presidency race, warns Iain Duncan Smith (dailymail.co.uk)