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February 2011

 File n°13 

Equal Access for Women and Men to Elected Offices and Positions

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Key Points

    Although women obtained the right to vote and stand for election with the ordinance of April 21, 1944, they were underrepresented for a long time in elections and elected positions.

    So as to make up for the delay in this field in France, the constituent power established, in the Constitution, the principle of “equal access by women and men to elective offices and positions” through the constitutional revision of July 8, 1999 (article 3, paragraph 5). The Constitution also requires legislators, as well as political parties and groupings, to implement this principle (article 4, paragraph 2).

    On the basis of this constitutional principle, Parliament has passed several laws intended to implement this idea.

    The constitutional revision of July 23, 2008, formally reaffirmed this principle by including it in article 1 of the Constitution.

    The application of this constitutional principle by the legislator has certainly been the cause of a clear improvement in the numbers of women among elected officials.

    This increase however differs according to the type of election, whether it be based on a list system or a single seat system.

 

By the ordinance of April 21, 1944, enacted by General de Gaulle, which dealt with the organization of public powers after the “Liberation”, French women became voters and eligible for election. However, throughout the second half of the XXth century, they remained under-represented in all French elections. In 1997, for instance, only 10.9% of M.P.s were female and only 5.6% of Senators. This left France in second to last place in this field by comparison with other European countries.

By enshrining in article 3 of the Constitution that the law “shall promote equal access by women and men to elective offices and posts” and in article 4 that “political parties and groups...shall contribute to the implementation of the principle”, (Constitutional Act n°99-568, of July 8, 1999) the Parliament wished to put an end to the under-representation of women in French political life.

Following on from this constitutional revision, several laws were passed which implement this principle:

- Law n°2000-493 of June 6, 2000 aiming at promoting the equal access by men and women to elective offices and posts;

- Law n°2003-327 of April 11, 2003 concerning the election of regional councillors and representatives of the European Parliament as well as public support for political parties;

- Law n°2003-697 of July 30, 2003 introducing a reform implementing the principle of parity to proportional senatorial elections based on a list system and which was applied in departments where more than four Senators are elected;

- Law n°2003-1201 of December 18, 2003 dealing with male-female parity for lists of candidates in the election of members of the Assembly of Corsica;

- Law n°2007-128 of January 31, 2007, aiming at promoting the equal access by men and women to elective offices and posts;

- Law n°2008-175 of February 26, 2008, opening up equal access by men and women to the position of departmental councillor;

- The constitutional revision of July 23, 2008, formally reaffirmed this principle by including it in article 1 of the Constitution;

- The implementation of the principle of parity generally speaking led, between 2003 and 2009, to a distinct increase in the representation of women amongst elected officials. Nonetheless, this increase is still insufficient and from several points of view, appears to be linked to the type of election in which the candidates are involved;

- Thus it can be noticed that for elections based on a list system, the gender parity of candidacies was easily imposed when linked to the notion of a penalty of non-enrolment on electoral registers. In the case of elections for single-seat constituencies, the principle of gender parity places fewer restrictions as it is only enforced by financial penalties for general elections and by the need for a substitute of the opposite sex for cantonal elections.

I. – GENDER EQUALITY IN ELECTIONS USING A LIST SYSTEM

Law n° 2000-493, of June 6, 2000, aimed at promoting the equal access by men and women to elective offices and posts, imposed a strict male/female alternation on the lists for European and senatorial elections using proportional representation, as well as an alternation for every group of six candidates for regional elections and municipal elections.

In addition, this law made provision for a financial penalty for political parties which did not respect this principle in the putting forward of candidates for general elections.

Law n°2003-327 of April 11, 2003 on the election of regional councillors and representatives of the European Parliament, as well as on public aid to political parties, reaffirmed the requirement of respecting strict gender parity in the putting forward of lists of candidates to the European Parliament and for regional elections.

On the basis of the procedure applied in regional elections, the same rules were set down in Law n°2003-1201 of December 18, 2003 dealing with male-female parity for lists of candidates in the election of members of the Assembly of Corsica.

Law n°2007-128 of January 31, 2007, aiming at promoting the equal access by men and women to elective offices and posts extended the requirement of a strict male/female alternation in the composition of electoral lists to the election of the executive for regions and municipalities of 3,500 inhabitants or more. The law makes provision for a gender parity requirement on the lists of deputy mayors elected by the municipal councils as well as a strict alternation on the lists for the members of the standing committee of regional councils. It also imposes gender parity regarding candidacies on lists for deputy chairmen of regional councils. The same rules apply to elections of members of the Assembly of French citizens living abroad.

As a result of these changes to the electoral code, the principle of a strict male/female alternation applies to all these elections.

This represented a significant increase in the number of female candidates and in the number of women elected. However the movement begun by the implementation of the law of June 6, 2000 does now seem to have slowed down.

After the municipal elections held in March 2008, the percentage of women councillors in municipalities of 3,500 inhabitants or more, was 48.5%. The overall figure for female municipal councillors, whatever the size of the municipality, reached 35% in 2008 compared with 21.7% in 1995. However, women represent only 13.8% of elected mayors if one includes all municipalities (14.2% in municipalities of less than 3,500 compared with 9.6% in municipalities of 3,500 inhabitants or more).

At the partial renewal of the Senate in September 2008, 11 women were elected out of the 40 Senators up for election using this method. This represents 35.1% of the seats to be renewed.

At the March 2004 elections, women represented 47.6% of those who became regional councillors as against 27.5% in 1998.

In June 2004, of the 78 French MEPs elected to the European Parliament, 34 of them (i.e. 43.6%) were women. On June 7, 2009, the number of women elected represented 44.4% of the French representatives at the European Parliament.

By the end of 2006 however, only 37.3% of the deputy presidents of regional councils were women and only 36.8% of the deputy mayors. It could have been expected that, given the increase in the number of female regional and municipal councillors in municipalities of over 3,500 inhabitants, women would have been represented in similar figures on their executive bodies. The law of January 31, 2007, should contribute to the strengthening of female numbers on regional councils when the next elections to such bodies take place.

II. – GENDER PARITY IN SINGLE-SEAT ELECTIONS

- As regards general elections, the implementation of the aforementioned law of June 6, 2000 which provided for financial penalties for political parties which did not apply the rules on gender balance for candidates, had only limited effects.

- Law n°2000-493 of June 6, 2000, modified law n° 88-227, of March 11, 1988 concerning the financial transparency of political life and aimed at introducing an adjustment in the public aid given to parties which took into account the respective proportions of male and female candidates.

- In accordance with article 9-1 of law n°88-227 of March 11, 1988 modified by law n°2000-493 of June 6, 2000, the first part of this public aid was decreased when the gap between the number of candidates of each sex declaring themselves members of the party in question exceeded 2% of the total number of candidates. The percentage decrease in this public aid was equal to half the gap in respect of the total number of candidates. Thus if a party put forward 30% women and 70% men as the gap was 40%, public aid was decreased by 20%.

- At the general elections of June 2002, where this 50% rate applied, the parties put forward 38.8% female candidates but only 12.3% women were elected to the National Assembly. It represented a slight progress by comparison with the general elections of 1997 (10.9% women). The UMP thus lost 30.3% of the first part of this aid, the PS and the PRG 15.4%, the UDF 30.1% and the PCF 6.2%.

- In order to provide the political parties with a greater incentive, the law of January 31, 2007 raised the percentage of the decrease in public aid to 75% of the gap in respect of the total number of candidates. So, to take the previous example again, public aid will be reduced by 30% if a party only puts forward 30% female candidates. This new percentage did not however concern the June 2007 general elections. It will only be applied after the first general renewal of the National Assembly following January 1, 2008.

- The National Assembly which was elected in June 2007, has 18.5% women, i.e. quite a clear progression compared with the general elections of 2002 but still quite small when compared with women’s representation in foreign Parliaments. Nonetheless the number of female candidates endorsed reached 41.6%, i.e. 2.8% more than in 2002.

- For cantonal elections, the principle of a financial penalty was rendered difficult by the number of elected officials not belonging to any political party and by the absence of the reimbursement of electoral expenses in certain cantons. These elections were therefore not included in the reform of June 2000.

- At the 2004 elections, which had no legislative constraint, only 10.9% women were elected as departmental councillors.

    To enable a growing number of women to progressively sit on departmental councils and to avoid the holding of by-elections too frequently, the law of January 31, 2007 introduced substitutes for departmental councillors and imposed that the office-holder and his/her substitute should be of different sexes.

    Law n° 2008-175 of February 26, 2008, opening up equal access by men and women to the position of departmental councillor, made it automatic that a regional councillor who was retiring on account of a combination of offices, be replaced by his substitute. Previously in fact, the substitute only automatically replaced an elected councillor if the latter died. Otherwise a new election was held and this did not guarantee the substitute the possibility of seeking the position of regional councillor.

    As a result of the cantonal elections of March 9 and 16, 2008, the number of female regional councillors is still only 13.1%. It must however be noted that women represented only 20.9% of the candidates endorsed.

    Today all elections are subject to legislative measures aiming at making progress in the field of gender parity between candidates. Encouraging results have been obtained in elections using a list system and these results should be improved when the law of January 31, 2007 begins to take effect.