France: is Macron’s government backsliding on gender equality?

Emmanuel Macron has yet to follow through on his promise to appoint a dedicated minister for women’s rights. Cécile Bouanchaud in Le Monde argues that, alongside drastic cuts to the gender equality budget, the proposed changes to employment law have led to further disenchantment with the new President. 

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron

In an opinion piece published on Wednesday 6th September, various feminist groups laid out their concerns over the reforms. Around fifty associations have united to denounce ‘an apparently neutral text’ which, in reality, has ‘consequences specific to women’.

Professional equality no longer a concern

Those opposed to the legislation are critical of government back-pedalling on measures to safeguard professional equality. Once the reforms are approved, the dedicated body for identifying sources of workplace inequality (introduced in 2015) will be co-financed by company boards. Sophie Binet, head of gender equality at the General Confederation of Labour, anticipates that ‘Work councils with limited budgets will prefer to finance economic expertise…gender equality will fall off the radar.’

According to the societies and unions comprising the opposition to the reforms, ‘all tools for negotiating professional equality’ are damaged by the legislation. Employers will no longer face sanctions for flouting the Rudy law, which prevents discrimination against women, promotes gender parity in the workplace and enforces transparency for male and female salaries. An intra-company agreement, rather than a branch agreement as before, will allow employers to hold meetings every four years rather than annually, and the right to choose which figures, if any, to make public.

Skewed balance of power

Signatories of the document also assert that women will be in a weakened position to negotiate family rights, such as prolonged maternity leave or taking time off to care for an ill child – ‘these issues will once again be subject to an intra-company agreement where the power balance is less favourable to women.’

Another cause for concern is the disappearance of the CHSCT (Committee for Hygiene, Safety and Work Conditions) which helps to prevent sexual violence in the workplace. According to Sophie Binet, ‘20% of women claim to have suffered sexual harassment in their place of work. We were just starting to realise the psycho-social risks of this kind of abuse… Now that will go down the drain.’

Criticism of Secretary of State Schiappa

On Tuesday, in a meeting of the council for professional equality, all representatives of labour unions bar one voted against the reforms. Employers associations, however, were in favour.

Binet, who was present at the meeting, stated that Marlène Schiappa (Secretary of State for Equality between Women and Men), ‘did not see where the problem lay with the points we had raised…without really answering our questions.’

Marlène Schiappa

When contacted, Schiappa promised ‘vigilance’ on matters of professional equality affected by the new legislation, but failed to really address the issues called to light by signatories of the critique.

Feminist representatives unanimously doubt Schiappa’s ability to ‘carry weight in government’ and denounce the discrepancy between Macron’s electoral promises and the measures taken these last few months. ‘We feel that this subject is being used as a public relations tool,’ says Binet.

One thought on “France: is Macron’s government backsliding on gender equality?