Thursday, 23 February 2012

Which candidate is best for gender equality?

  The “Equality Laboratory” (Laboratoire de l’Egalité) commissioned a poll of a representative sample of 1186 members of the French public.   The aim was to gauge their opinions concerning the strength of the different French presidential candidates on issues of gender equality.  The results are fascinating, as they indicate a slight disconnect between public perceptions and what the candidates are actually promising.
  Of particular interest is how highly Marine le Pen scores on a number of equality criteria, presumably because she is a woman.  This is despite the fact that her far-right party, the Front National, has a very regressive track record on almost all aspects of gender equality.  Christine Boutin (former minister, on the Christian right) also fared surprisingly well.  Although she withdrew as a candidate after the poll was commissioned due to her negligible performance in the polls, she received 5% of votes as the candidate most likely to implement equality.  This is all the more astonishing given that she distinguished herself as the only deputy (MP) of either sex or any political party to vote against France’s parity law.  This law requires French parties to select equal numbers of men and women candidates to French elections, and its real and symbolic effects have been widely felt.  The results of this survey indicate the symbolic impact of having a woman candidate, and the corresponding association of women as descriptive representatives with substantive issues of gender equality.  Women are assumed to be advocates of equality even when their track records indicate the contrary.
  Despite the exaggerated associations between women candidates and gender equality, François Hollande was considered the best candidate for gender equality across all the categories.  The Socialist candidate has been forthcoming in promoting women-friendly policies in this election, perhaps trying to tap into an electorate that is hard to win over.  (In 2007, Sarkozy’s victory was largely thanks to the votes of older women.)  Hollande announced in a speech on 22 February that he would reinstate the Women’s Rights ministry in order to promote equality.  He has also reiterated his commitment to equality issues, and promised to put pressure on businesses to conform to equal pay legislation within a year.

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