France's parliament began debating on Monday a sweeping set of new laws that aim to make up for disparities between men and women at home, work and in the media and politics.
The string of proposals would rewrite France's abortion laws and would change the composition of the decision-making bodies of publicly-owned business as well as push fathers to be more involved with their children and, most controversially, change the law to make it easier for women to get an abortion.
Claire Serre-Combe, activist with the women's rights group Osez Le Féminisme, said the law addresses all the fronts of inequality between the sexes. The law, which she expects will pass, will serve as a force for change, she says.
"We know it's a change that will take time. Look for example at the Nordic countries like Sweden," she said. "There came a time when political leaders approved tough laws. It provoked a move towards equality and changed people's thinking on the issue."
Here are ten key points from France's equality bill:
- Women in the media: France’s national media regulator and censor CSA would be in charge of making sure women are represented well in the media. It could crack down on sexist statements and the broadcasting of degrading images of women. Journalism students would also undergo sensitivity training on these issues during their education. No such protections exist in the United States or the UK.
- Abortion: The proposed law would allow French women to abort if they didn’t wish to pursue a pregnancy, rather than being forced to prove that having child would put them in a “situation of distress”, as the law currently requires. The legislation would also punish anyone who tries to stop women from getting information about abortion. The US has no such requirements for abortion, though rules vary from state to state. UK law, similar to France, requires doctors to OK an abortion.
- Decision making: The proposal would force political parties, sports organizations and big business to include a larger portion of women in their management or decision-making bodies. For example, the governing bodies of sports organizations would need to be 40 percent female. Failure to comply could cost them their accreditation. Publicly-owned industries like Banque de France, would need to have an equal number of men and women on their decision-making boards.
- Parental leave: Under the proposed law, fathers would get workplace rights similar to mothers. For example, they couldn’t be fired within four weeks of the birth of a new child. Future fathers would also have the right to three days off to accompany their child’s mother to mandatory ultrasound doctor’s visits.
- Child support: France would make up the difference on any unmade alimony/maintenance payments and would then try to recover the money from the parent who has not met his obligations. About 40 percent of French mothers are entitled to maintenance but receive it infrequently or not at all.
- Beauty contests: Mini-miss beauty contests will be forbidden for under-13s. Anyone who organizes a competition for 13 to 16-year-olds needs authorization from local authorities. Anyone found breaking the law will be subject to a fine of €1,500.
- Marriage/PACS: Every employee will be allowed four days off work for a civil marriage, known in France as PACS, and a traditional marriage.
- In the work place: Companies caught flouting the current laws to promote equality in the work place will be barred from bidding for state contracts.
- Domestic abuse: The length of protection orders for women who are victims of sexual abuse will be lengthened from four to six months. Emergency phones linked to police stations for women who are victims of domestic violence will also be made available.
- Politics: In the year 2000 France passed a law forcing all parties to include equal numbers of men and women on party lists for elections. Fines were handed out to those parties who did not meet their targets. The move was credited with helping to increase the number of female lawmakers but the French government now wants more. As part of the new bill the government will increase the fines handed out to political parties who do not meet their objectives for equal representation at the 2017 parliamentary elections.
As long as the law clears its vote in France's General Assembly, it would move to a debate and vote in the Senate. A successful vote would send the law on to President François Hollande, who is expected to give his approval.