In our December 1999/January 2000 issue, we reported that the French legislature—under pressure from feminists and lagging far behind most members of the European Union when it comes to female representation in Parliament—was scheduled to vote on a gender parity law. In June 2000, the law was officially announced, and was tested this March with the election of local council members. In local elections, where the French vote for party lists rather than individual candidates, the parity law states that in any voting district, or commune, with more than 3,500 inhabitants, each political party is required to present lists of candidates with a 50-50 gender balance.
The results are in: 47.5% of the elected councilors in communes with more than 3,500 inhabitants are women (up from 22%). The only problem is that the parity law does not apply in 90% of the communes (where about one third of the French population currently live) because they have less than 3,500 inhabitants. “In spite of this, the result is very satisfactory,” says Franoise Gaspard, a feminist writer and United Nations representative. “Moreover, though the statistics are not in yet, it seems that the number of women elected in the small communes has increased as well.”
The biggest challenge for the law will come next year with the parliamentary election. Rather than attempt to achieve parity in each voting district, each party must make sure it has an equal number of men and women candidates in the country as a whole.