INFORMAL THEMATIC DEBATE OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON PROMOTION OF GENDER EQUALITY AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN
France fully aligns itself with the statement made by Germany on behalf of the European Union.
I would like first to thank you for taking the initiative to organize this thematic debate on the promotion of gender equality. My country attaches the utmost importance to the actions taken in the framework of the United Nations to promote equality between men and women in the world.
I wish to emphasize in particular France’s attachment to the texts adopted at the Cairo and Beijing conferences, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
In March 2004, the government wished to give further impetus to the implementation of the steps advocated in the Beijing program of action: "an integrated approach to equality." To this end, the public authorities, in partnership with nongovernmental organizations, undertook to initiate over 300 actions to advance equality in our country.
These actions, written into the "Charter of Equality Between Men and Women," resulted in France ’s acquiring effective means in the last few years to improve the place of women in public life, professional life and private life.
The law on the equal access of men and women to elective office provides for parity in the executives of municipal and regional councils, and stiffer financial penalties for political parties that fail to comply with the legal requirements in terms of parity. It also requires a general councilor and a substitute of different gender to be elected in the upcoming local elections in the cantons. In this way, it opens up our local assemblies to "real parity." With this law, a pool of women will be formed, leading to their full involvement in political life.
This law completes and strengthens our measures for parity in politics. In fact, the revision of our Constitution in 1999 and the laws of June 2000 and April 2003 had already led to progress for women in the municipal councils, regional assemblies and European Parliament, but even today women still account for only 12% of deputies in the National Assembly and only one woman chairs a regional council.
In order to encourage full and complete participation in all spheres and at all levels of economic life, the government is pursuing a deliberate policy which permits France to reconcile a solid rate of female participation in the labor force and one of the highest fertility rates in Europe. With two children per woman in 2006, the rate has attained its highest level in 30 years.
The quantitative and qualitative improvement in child care, measures to encourage the return to work, the establishment of the chèque emploi service universel [government subsidized check for workers in the home], the development of services to people and the incentives to businesses to take into account the parental responsibilities of their employees all contribute undeniably to this success.
However, inequalities among women in the work force persist in our country: women are more affected by unemployment; their salary on average is 19% less than that of men, mainly because they are concentrated in a small number of less skilled and less well-paying jobs; their careers are often held in check by pregnancy, and consequently there are fewer women than men in positions of responsibility: for instance, they hold one quarter of the executive positions in companies in the private sector.
The law of March 23, 2006 aims to correct these inequalities:
For the first time, the law sets a target for the social partners regarding equal pay for men and women, coupled with a mandatory timeframe of five years to achieve it, by means of social dialogue. If the result mid-way through is not satisfactory, a financial assessment imposed on the wage bill will be introduced for companies that have not begun negotiations on this issue with their employees’ representatives.
The differences in salary also arise from the fact that women are held back in their careers by pregnancy. There too, the law of March 23, 2006 provides concrete responses to remedy the situation.
Lastly, France remains very much committed to the development of practices within companies that promote the balanced representation of men and women in economic decision-making.
This development goes in the direction of progress and innovation. Indeed the advent of women in decision-making positions is an opportunity for businesses to re-examine how they operate and are organized with a view to improving these practices, and such improvements benefit all, men and women.
France is committed to the promotion of good practices by encouraging social dialogue. For instance in France, businesses that have signed agreements on professional equality between men and women have integrated the issue of women’s participation in decision-making into their action strategy.
The government’s action to give women their full place in our society reflects France’s resolve to develop a culture of equality shared by all. Real equality between men and women is a guarantee of democracy as well as a matter of economic efficiency. It is the source of social cohesion and is indispensable to the progress and dynamism of all countries.
Madam President, you can count on France’s support to continue to promote equality between women at the international level, and especially in the framework of the United Nations.