Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding Observations: France (1993).



327. The Committee considered the second periodic report of France (CEDAW/C/FRA/2/Rev.1) at its 222nd meeting, on 27 January (see CEDAW/C/SR.222).

328. In presenting the report, the representative of France addressed a major concern of the Committee at the time of the presentation of the initial report, namely, the replacement of the Ministry for Women's Rights by a delegation for the status of women, which was lower in the administrative hierarchy. She said that, in turn, the delegation had been replaced in 1988 by a State Secretariat for Women's Rights with the full powers of a ministry and its own budget. That decision had shown the Government's political will to make the defence of women's rights one of its priorities. The tasks of the Secretariat were to ensure the implementation and monitoring of adopted legal texts and to propose new measures. It had a central administration and regional and departmental delegates to promote women's rights, mainly in the fields of employment and professional training in close collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Professional Training. In order to make the best use of its modest budget, the State Secretariat had chosen as its priorities measures for promoting equality in employment and measures to combat sexual violence, and positive developments had been registered over the past few years; however, the two major areas where failures could be noticed were women in power and women at work.

329. The representative said that French women had not obtained a share of power in 1945 when they had been given the right to vote, but rather in the 1970s when the process of dissociation between sexuality and procreation had been accomplished through the adoption of the contraception and abortion laws. She said that contraception and abortion were the true revolutions of the twentieth century, constituting not a power-sharing between women and men, but a transfer of power from men to women. Women alone could decide on maternity, they could determine whether they chose to live with the child's father, to be married and to recognize the father's rights. They alone currently had the power in the family under the law.

330. The representative said that the French mentality was still influenced by the Napoleonic Code, which had given women an inferior position in society. Considerable strides had been made in general, but women continued to suffer from that heritage. In the twentieth century, women in France had acquired freedom and dignity and had passed from being objects of history to subjects of history. It was to be hoped that women would achieve equality in the twenty-first century.

General observations

331. Regarding the concern expressed by members at the maintenance of the reservations to the Convention, the representative said that some of them had been withdrawn. Yet there was no intention of withdrawing the remaining ones under articles 5 (b) and 16, paragraph 1 (d), regarding the exercise of parental authority, nor the ones related to social security provisions under article 14, paragraph 2 (c) and (h), regarding the acquisition of property by rural women, since the legal situation in France was extremely beneficial to women. The reservation to article 16, paragraph 1 (g), regarding the right to choose the family name was also being maintained, although a new law of 1993 gave both parents more flexibility in choosing the first name of their children and made it easier to change one's name. Regarding the reservation to article 29, the representative said that there were mediation bodies in the country and that France did not consider it necessary to refer disputes to the International Court of Justice.

332. Members asked additional questions about the availability of special programmes for immigrant women and their families and about related problems. They recommended that France should play a vanguard role in maintaining human rights and, therefore, also respond strongly to campaigns against migrants.

333. Asked about the attitude of the Government to practices of polygamy and female circumcision among immigrants, the representative said that both were forbidden on French territory and that immigrants had to comply with the relevant French legislation.

Questions related to specific articles

Article 5

334. Regarding the measures taken to combat sexual harassment, the representative said that the Government had enacted a bill in 1992. According to a survey, 21 per cent of the women in France had been victims or witnesses of sexual harassment, representing 19 per cent of all working women. In order to afford women better protection, sanctions for sexual harassment had been provided in the Penal and Labour Codes if the perpetrator was hierarchically superior to the victim.

335. In combating marital violence, the State Secretariat had tripled its subsidies over the last years for assisting shelters and creating new ones. Furthermore, a national awareness-raising campaign had been launched on television to shock the public by the statistics on violence against women, accompanied by a nationwide telephone hot line for listening to the victims, giving them guidance and legal counselling and providing them and their children with accommodation.

336. Asked by members about the Government's position regarding pornography, the representative said that it was sanctioned by imprisonment or monetary fines.

337. Additional questions concerned the number of court cases dealing with sexual harassment, the type of sanctions applied and the occupational groups to which most victims of sexual harassment belonged.

Article 6

338. Regarding questions about the number and age of prostitutes, the representative said that no official data were available, but that the number of prostitutes was probably in the range of 10,000 to 15,000. Financial assistance for the reintegration and rehabilitation of former prostitutes was available, and prostitutes had to pay tax. The representative said that prostitution came within the purview of the Ministry of the Interior.

Article 7

339. The representative said that women in France were still excluded from the political arena. That backlog was a heritage from the past as the French Revolution had not encompassed gender issues, and women had obtained the right to vote very late. In the French Parliament only 5 per cent of the deputies were women. The reason why there were more French women in the European Parliament than in the National Assembly was that voting was done on the basis of lists and the European Parliament was not of such political concern. Women were still excluded from political participation in spite of such dynamic steps as appointing women to 6 out of 45 ministers' posts or a woman as prime minister.

340. Asked whether actions similar to those taken to combat sexual violence would initiate progress, the representative said that the political activity of women depended on the political determination of the parties. Candidates for elections were nominated by the party officials. One way of enabling more women to obtain political power would be to establish positive discrimination procedures; however, such measures were not popular with the French people.

341. Asked for further information on the declaration that had been signed by the leaders of the four main political parties in 1989 to modify the modus operandi of the political parties and what effect it had had on the attitude of the parties, the representative said that the declaration was not supported by sufficient political will. Members of political parties were mostly men because political life, as practised, was not compatible with the requirements of family life.

342. Referring to an additional comment by a member that the new definition of power referred to by the representative, meaning power in the family, might overcome the division between the private and the public domain, the representative said that the present young generation of women were admitted to the same curricula as men to prepare themselves for participation in political life. They could, therefore, also take up positions of authority and impose equality. Replying to the question whether women were equally disadvantaged in public office and the civil service, the representative said that civil service jobs were compatible with family life and, since 1980, significant progress had been made in that sector.

343. Further questions posed by members concerned the type of measures that were being undertaken to overcome the obstacles to political power-sharing by women, the attitude of women's associations vis--vis the low representation of women in political life, the relationship of the State Secretariat with women leaders of women's organizations, trade unions and other areas of political power, and the support given by the State Secretariat to their initiatives. Members also asked whether political parties had adopted a quota system, whether they encouraged women to participate in politics at the local and national levels and whether the financial support given to women was the same as that given to men.

Article 10

344. Asked whether the system of scholarships still existed for deserving young girls, the representative replied in the affirmative.

Article 11

345. Turning to measures taken to promote gender equality in employment, the representative said that the participation rate of French women aged between 25 and 60 years, who constituted 46 per cent of the active labour force, was 76 per cent, the highest in the European Economic Community (EEC). Even though women did not leave the labour force to have children, France had one of the highest birth rates in Europe. Girls outnumbered boys at secondary school and at university and they also obtained better marks. However, the wage differential between women and men was on average 30 per cent and the rate of unemployment for women was twice as high as that for men. The representative explained that, on the one hand, there was still a generation of women who had never worked, apart from many immigrant women who had no professional qualifications and were often illiterate and, on the other hand, there was the first generation leaving mixed schools who continued to choose traditionally female jobs that earned them lower pay than jobs in more technical sectors. In order to change the behavioural patterns of girls, parents, teachers, trainers and employers, the Secretary of State had initiated in 1992 a major national campaign entitled "This is technical, this is for her". Simultaneously, all heads of universities had to work out a five-year plan under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education for diversifying the orientation and training of girls.

346. The representative said further that, during the previous three years, great efforts had been targeted on combating female unemployment by retraining women for technical jobs in various branches of industry, thus responding to the needs of industry, and also on integrating women into the labour market. Under the supervision of the Secretary of State and the Minister of Labour, regional committees had been set up to monitor the employment of women. The State Secretariat had also created a special fund to finance the costs connected with retraining, such as care for children or an aged parent, transport and accommodation. Since it was considered that the law on professional equality had not had the desired impact, a training manual had been developed on equality in employment with the intention of demonstrating to companies the economic advantages of training and employing women.

347. The representative said that equality in the field of education was not matched by equality in employment and in remuneration because girls were still being trained in traditional fields as a result of the persistent image of women's roles on the part of parents, teachers and employers. Trade unions had never taken an active part in promoting women's equality in professions. She said that thought should be given to the image of women that sons received in their education. It was a primary concern of the society to reorient family policy.

348. Asked whether any efforts were being made to introduce job-sharing, about flexible working hours, and whether women were in favour of such arrangements, the representative said that, although a great percentage of women worked in part-time employment, it was not out of choice. She was sceptical about part-time work and said that it had been imposed on women for family reasons. Most women would prefer to work full time so as to earn enough money to be able to pay for child care. Turning to questions about the introduction of shorter working hours for women, she said that the working hours should be shorter for men and women as was already the case in some other countries. Asked about night work, she said that if a ban on industrial night work were to be introduced for women, women would be the first ones to be dismissed when those enterprises experienced difficulties.

349. Members asked the representative whether the principle of equal pay for work of equal value was applied in France and (considering the differential between men and women) which obstacles prevented its strict application and whether the differential was attributable to the fact that many women worked part time. The representative replied that appropriate laws existed and only a few women had chosen part-time employment; lack of implementation was the problem. It was extremely difficult to prove wage discrimination. More women were engaged in work that required special skills than in executive jobs.

350. An additional question was raised as to whether part-time employment affected women's social security benefits.

Article 12

351. The representative mentioned the measures taken against the so-called "anti-abortion squads" that had demonstrated for the past few years at State hospitals and private clinics to stop the abortion services and to intimidate the women who were seeking assistance and the staff in order to undermine the provisions of the abortion law of 1975. As their activities had been non-violent, they remained unsanctioned because of a gap in the law. A new law had been put into force to put such acts under sanction.

352. Asked about more information on the consequences and use of the anti-contraception pill RU 486, the representative said that its use had not resolved the abortion problem. It was freely available to women aged between 25 and 40 years. However, young women did not use it to the same extent, which led to early pregnancies and clandestine abortions. She put the number of abortions per year at 170,000, compared with 600,000 births per year. Contraception campaigns included the use of condoms because of the incidence of HIV infection, and recently it had been decided to distribute them free of charge to high-school students.

Article 16

353. The representative said that the rate of marriages ending in divorce had been 30 per cent during the past 10 years and the number of one-parent families had doubled, and had been over 1 million in 1990.

354. Concern was expressed by members about the high rate of divorce and they asked what its causes were and whether any measures were envisaged to remedy that situation. Whereas the representative made only the level of independence of women responsible for the phenomenon, members said that in other countries divorce was very common also, but for different reasons. They asked whether any research was being carried out on the incidence of single female-headed families, whether freedom of choice was the only reason, whether it had any effect on the role of the male spouse, whether the Government supported women's preference for one-parent families, whether it was envisaging any measures to combat that phenomenon, whether French women considered it to be an achievement and what the consequences of its increase were for the structure of French society and in what way the phenomenon was being monitored.

355. When members said that the appropriate environment ought to be created in order to make it possible for women to have a career and a family life in the traditional sense, the representative replied that while it was the concern of the State Secretariat to offer women the best possible conditions, it could not decide for women on the private lives they wished to have. Taking into account the fact that France was one of the EEC countries with the highest birth rate without its women feeling the need to be married, the representative said that the Government was neither encouraging nor discouraging that situation and that no links should be established between the promotion of women's rights and the existence of families.

356. Referring to additional comments on the high rate of one-parent families in France, the representative said that the main reasons for the one-parent families were the high divorce rate - emphasizing that 85 per cent of the divorces had been initiated by women after three to four years of marriage - widowhood as a result of accidents, and the choice of young women to give preference to their professional career over marriage, and to cohabitation without contracting a marriage. She said that young women were more aware of their identity than their mothers.

357. The additional comments of members referred to the difference in marriageable age for women and men.

Concluding observations

358. The members commended the report for its clear structure and adherence to the general guidelines regarding the form and content of reports, and praised France for having played a pioneering role in many sectors of human rights and in advancing the status of women. They also commended its presentation by the Secretary of State herself and the fruitful and constructive dialogue following the presentation. However, concern was expressed about the late submission of the revised version of the report and the fact that a number of questions prepared by the pre-session working group, that had been transmitted to the Government, had not been responded to in the oral presentation.

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