Monday, 18 June 2012

Record number of women elected to French Parliament

  France has just elected a record number of women to its parliament.  The number of women deputies now stands at 155, or 26.9%.  This is a dramatic improvement from the previous record of 107, or 18.5%, women elected in 2007.  However, it is still a far cry from parity and is slightly below my original forecast.

  France has a poor track record for electing women, and has had a gender parity law in place since 2000 to boost women's representation in parliament.  This law has been ineffective due to weak sanctions for non-implementation and the ability of parties to circumvent the law by fielding women in unwinnable seats.  Parties of the right have been particularly guilty of disregarding parity.  The victory of the left in 2012, combined with harsher financial penalties for non-implementation, help explain the rise this time around.
  France's final score will change slightly once members of the government are replaced by their substitute deputies, or suppléants.  Of eleven women deputies nominated to the government, nine have male suppléants, and only 7/12 male ministers will be replaced with female suppléantes, resulting in a net loss of two women.  The revised figure of 153 women, or 26.5%, lifts France from 84th to 38th place in international league tables for women's representation (the UK is ranked 61st).  This is the first time that France has had more women in its parliament than the UK, which now compares unfavourably with 22.5% women in parliament.
  There was a clear partisan divide in the proportions of women elected.  The Socialists (PS) came close to (but did not achieve) their target of 40% women elected, with a final tally of 36.8%.  This figure was not helped by cases such as that of Ségolène Royal, where the PS selected a female candidate who was then beaten by a male dissident candidate from the same party.  Other left wing parties also fared quite well, with the Greens achieving perfect parity, although the Front de Gauche (formerly the Communist Party) only managed 20%.  On the right, the picture is far less impressive.  The UMP elected a paltry 13.6% women, and the New Centre party yet again failed to count a single woman amongst its ranks.  Overall, the proportion of women elected on the left was 36.5%, and on the right (excluding the far-right) was just 12.5%.  This very poor performance on the right is the main reason why the total proportion of women is not higher.  This is explained in part by the high proportion of the UMP's outgoing female MPs who were elected in marginal constituencies that easily capitulated to the left when the electoral tide turned.
  There are also some regional disparities.  Finistère maintained it good track record as a gender-equal department, while 27 out of 106 departments did not elect a single woman deputy.  (Conversely, there are no departments represented exclusively by women.)
  In addition to the rise in the proportion of women, this election has also seen a historic rise in the number of ethnic minority deputies elected.  France has a lamentable track record in this regard; with the exception of France's overseas territories, France had no non-white deputies until 2007, when George Pau-Langevin (of Guadeloupean origin) was elected in Paris.  This time around, she is joined by six more non-white deputies, including Seybah Dagoma, another black female deputy in Paris; Kheira Bouziane and Chaynesse Khirouni, also female; Kader Arif, a member of the new government; Razzy Hamadi; and Malek Boutih.  All are Socialists.  This is an important and highly symbolic outcome for a country with entrenched (though seldom acknowledged) racial divides.
  How did my forecasts fare? I forecast the number of women elected based on two models, one using the results of the presidential elections, one based on the first round of the parliamentary elections.  The presidential results slightly over-estimated the number of women elected (at nearly 30%).  This is likely due to the electoral strength of some male incumbents on the right, who managed to retain their seats despite a swing to the left in the presidential election.  The results were also somewhat perturbed by anomalies such as three-ways in the second round.  The first-round results provided a more sensitive and accurate forecast, with the forecast proving accurate to within four seats in the 507 seats where a prediction was made (the seats that were forecast incorrectly all proved to be very close calls, with one resulting in the victory of a far-right candidate).  In the 70 remaining marginal seats, women obtained fewer than half the seats - a total of 28.  As a result, the total number of women elected was higher than the 25% stemming from the non-marginal seats, but fewer than the possible 28% if the marginals had split evenly between men and women.  These figures reflect the fact that women are more frequently found in marginal seats, as this is where most new opportunities emerge.  However, as women on the right have demonstrated, the excessive placement of women in marginal districts leaves them vulnerable to future electoral swings.
  Overall, this is a historic day for women in French politics, and the UK should take note as it now lags behind its neighbour.  However, the battle for parity is far from won in France, and a future right-wing victory might even see the proportion of women go back down.

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