France - Advancing women's participation in politics is a work in progress

AGORA moderator's picture

By Tokia Saifi, French MEP  

The principle of equal access for women and men to electoral mandates and elective functions has been a constitutional principle since 1999 in France, but the country is lagging behind. Time to legislate and ensure women’s representation in leadership positions, writes Tokia Saïfi.

Tokia Saïfi is a member of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party (EPP) and a former French minister for or sustainable development.

"France remains in mid-league in terms of women’s representation in its elected assemblies. The country is lagging behind Rwanda (in first position) Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Angola and Italy.

These figures demonstrate that it is still necessary to legislate to ensure true representation of women within economic, political, institutional leadership positions at both national and European level; as these areas often remain men’s hunting ground.

In consequence, the completion of the Directive adopted by the European Parliament on 20 November, which sets out that large companies must aim for 40% of women on their boards of directors by 2020, should be among the priorities of the current Greek Presidency.

Yet this is not the case and it will probably have to wait for the renewal of the European Parliament and the European Commission this year, to be put back on the agenda.

I often note the dichotomy between the political will for the greater involvement of women and the implementation of existing legislation.

Still it is not, in my opinion, a fatality: there are laws on which women can rely. And most importantly, they must learn to make the best of the existing tools. My role, as MEP, is precisely to design, promote, and provide help on how to use these tools.

Numerous studies show that in politics as well as in business, women have less of a networking culture than men, and are less likely to put forward their assets.

It is precisely the purpose of informal bodies such as the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society that I will welcome next week in the European Parliament. It promotes sustainable and operational business networking for women from all sectors and all horizons.

The other major advantage of this forum is that it sets up a public space for women to assert their skills, their know-how, in one word, to defend their methods as well as their achievements.

My actions as an MEP are channelled towards emphasising the positive socio-economic impact of a strengthened representation, rather than relying on texts which can be condescending and lacking practical impact.

Thus, early last year, in the framework of the Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean which I chair, I created a workshop for elected Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan women who participated in historic elections in their respective countries.

My aim was to organise very concrete workshops, for instance on how to develop a budget, how to effectively participate in the legislative process or how to communicate its political activities to citizens.

At a time when most of those Southern neighbourhood countries were seeking the broadest possible political consensus to fulfil the promises of the Arab Springs., the experience at the European Parliament was extremely rewarding for all the participants.

Women's participation in politics worldwide is rather taking a step forwards than a step back at this point in time. We must now realise that we are no longer concerned with initiatives, but rather with the consolidation of these initiatives. Therefore, it is up to women themselves to seize opportunities and develop new ones."

SOURCE: Euractive, January 22nd 2014: