The French government today examined a sweeping gender equality overhaul, with a proposed new law on equal pay, paternity rights, domestic violence and sexism in the media.


By Henry Samuel, Paris - 3 July 2013


.....The "men-women equality" law, presented to ministers today, seeks to change deeply-ingrained habits in a country where women do 80 per cent of household chores, are paid on average 27 per cent less than their male counterparts and occupy just 14 per cent of France's 36,000 mayoral posts.

Proposed measures include docking maternity leave from couples if fathers fail to take proper leave too, enabling courts to accelerate restraining orders, trials and compulsory "awareness-raising courses" for violent male partners. The law also envisages providing females considered under threat of violence with free emergency mobile phones to alert police.

Divorced men who fail to pay alimony could see the owed funds taken directly from their social benefits.

Companies that fail to respect gender equality could be excluded from public contract tenders, while sports federations will also face penalties for shunning equality. Fines on political parties failing to respect gender parity in legislative elections will be doubled. Currently only 26 per cent of French MPs are women.

A key measure is to encourage more French men to take paternity leave.

Currently women are allowed to take six months leave after their first child and three years after their second. Under the new rules, a further six months will be granted after one child if taken by the father, while the three years will be reduced to two and a half unless the father takes the remaining six months.

The French government hopes to thus boost the number of men who take paternity leave each year from 18,000 to 100,000.

The law will also extend the definition of what constitutes "psychological violence" within a couple a crime punishable by a three-year prison term - to include "behaviour and words" as well as "acts".

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France's women's rights minister, has likened the changes in sexual equality laws her government is introducing to granting women the vote and legalising abortion.

The self-professed land of human rights currently languishes in 57th place in the World Economic Forum's 2012 gender equality report - well behind Britain, in 18th place, but also Venezuela and the Kyrgiz Republic. It ranks almost last overall on the wage equality index - 129th out of 135 countries.