News / Europe

Women's Rights Looking up in France

French President Francois Hollande gestures as he speaks to reporters upon his arrival for an EU summit, at the European Council building in Brussels, May 23, 2012.French President Francois Hollande gestures as he speaks to reporters upon his arrival for an EU summit, at the European Council building in Brussels, May 23, 2012.
x
French President Francois Hollande gestures as he speaks to reporters upon his arrival for an EU summit, at the European Council building in Brussels, May 23, 2012.
French President Francois Hollande gestures as he speaks to reporters upon his arrival for an EU summit, at the European Council building in Brussels, May 23, 2012.
Lisa Bryant
France may remember 2012 as the year of women's rights.  Newly elected President Francois Hollande has ushered in the country's first gender-balanced cabinet. His partner, twice-divorced journalist Valerie Trierweiler, is the country's first unmarried "first lady." And earlier this year, the government scrapped the honorific "Mademoiselle" from its official documents in favor of the more equalizing "Madame." But are these changes just symbolic?

The easy part of Olivia Cattan's day ends at lunchtime, when she leaves her work as a pre-school assistant and starts her other job - as a journalist and founder of the feminist organization, "Paroles de Femmes," or "Words of Women."

Cattan advised President Francois Hollande on women's issues during his campaign.

As France's new leader, Hollande appears to be acting on her advice. His Cabinet includes an equal number of male and female ministers. It also includes a new ministry of women's rights, headed by Najat Vallaud Belkacem, 34, who is also the government's spokeswoman.

Cattan says Hollande's initial gestures are great. She says his parity government amounts to a new page for French feminism.

France also has a new, unmarried "first partner" - journalist Valerie Trierweiler, who was a key advisor during his campaign.

Cattan adds that the first couple shows that marriage is not a necessity. French women have the right to choose what lives they want to lead.

Women's issues have been in the spotlight in France for other reasons - notably the sexual allegations dogging former International Monetary Fund chief and French politician, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Economics and minority rights professor Anne Boring says the Strauss-Kahn scandals amount to a wakeup call.

"I do think the Strauss-Kahn affair has had quite a strong impact on the French society," said Borning.  "Now women are more willing to say what has happened to them or to denounce violence against women."

On the streets of Paris, businessmen like Olivier Bambois, 40, appear pleased with women's new assertion in political life.

Bambois says it's good not to differentiate women and men in the workforce and in politics, what counts is their competency.

Theatre director Nadia Vonderheyden also praises recent changes, including the elimination of the term "Mademoiselle" or "Miss" from French government documents.

Now, Vonderheyden says, the government is beginning to reflect the reality of French society.

But professor Boring says French women still have a long way to go.

"France is a country where women are still discriminated [against] at the work place and salaries of the women at the same stage of qualification are much lower than the salaries of men," Boring added.  "Women tend to slow down their careers much more than men do."

And she says only time will tell if Hollande's first steps to promote women's rights are effective.

"One of the guidelines is can he actually maintain parity within the government?  The women who are in [ministerial] positions now - they have a huge responsibility - because they need to show that they are as able as men to do the job," Boring explained.

Cattan, too, says she will be watching closely to see if France's new president makes good on his promises to promote women's equality.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More