French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to make the fight against gender inequality the “great cause” of his second term in power. Marine Le Pen promises to “stand in the way of anyone” who threatens women. FRANCE 24 spoke to several women’s rights activists about the two presidential candidates’ programmes, and looked at how feminist their manifestos actually are.
As France’s presidential election campaign heads into its final week, with Emmanuel Macron due to face off against Marine Le Pen on April 24, the two candidates’ manifestos on women’s rights are coming under increasing scrutiny from feminist groups in France.
During the election campaign, Osez le féminisme, a leading feminist organisation in France, set up a “feministometer” – a tool that measures the proposals in favour of women’s rights in the candidates’ programmes.
The “feministometer” takes into account the candidates’ programmes, their statements on the campaign trail, and looks at their voting record.
“We are ‘apartisan’,” explains Fabienne El-Khoury, a spokesperson for Osez le féminisme, “but our organisation is political, because feminism is eminently political”, she says.
“Marine Le Pen’s programme is misogynistic,” says El-Khoury. “She has no concrete proposals for tackling violence against women, nor for addressing wage inequality. She only talks about women’s rights from a racist perspective, when she uses them to attack foreigners.”
Women’s rights as a means, not an end
National Rally President Le Pen makes much of women in her campaign brochures mailed to French voters. But there is no mention of women in her manifesto online. None of the thematic booklets on her campaign website talk about women. Women only appear in the “Family” booklet, where they are mentioned twice – as mothers in the births and surrogate motherhood section.
Le Pen talks at length about the fight against “harassers” – whose names she proposes adding to the sex offenders’ register – but she does not explicitly mention sexual assault or rape.
For Osez le féminisme, Le Pen’s use of words is not a coincidence: “She rarely speaks about all violence against women, preferring to suggest that it is foreigners who are the cause of this violence by playing on stereotypes,” the group points out. “Of course, this kind of violence takes place, but unfortunately the statistics tell us that most rapes take place at home, across all social classes, and throughout society.”
Foreign women left out
Proposals for single mothers were also put to the test by the “feministometer”.
Le Pen wants to double support for single mothers, while strengthening checks to avoid fraud. “The measure seems feminist, but in reality it stigmatises [single women]”, says Osez le féminisme. “We help them, but we suspect them. It also suggests that the administrative procedures for accessing aid will be laborious, which will reduce access to this right.
“Voting for Marine Le Pen is not an option for women,” says Ghada Hatem-Gantzer, an obstetrician-gynaecologist and founder of the Maison des Femmes, which has been sheltering victims of violence in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, since 2016.
“We treat a lot of migrant patients, some of whom are in a precarious situation,” says Hatem-Gantzer, who is also the chief doctor of the group, which receives a large part of its funding from the public. The far-right candidate, who wants to make immigration the major cause of her mandate, is proposing to abolish the Aide Médicale d’Etat (AME) [state medical aid] for adults, while maintaining the emergency care system.
This aid currently allows foreigners living in France in an irregular situation to benefit from free access to healthcare without having to pay up front.
“Many patients will no longer be able to get treatment before their situation worsens. It will be catastrophic. Illnesses will progress to advanced stages that are even more complicated to treat. We can’t let people die like that from hypertension or diabetes. Reading her manifesto makes you shudder,” says Hatem-Gantzer.
Close to anti-abortion leaders
“Marine Le Pen makes grand statements, but there is no sign of concrete measures for women,” says El-Khoury. “If she really wants to tackle violence against women, as she says, we expect her to invest in women’s shelters, to support young people with sexual and emotional education from an early age, and to provide shelters with psychological, legal and social support – not just to talk about street harassment,” she added.
The Women’s Foundation and four of France’s leading women’s rights groups published an open letter in French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, calling on the two presidential candidates to adopt a 10-point emergency plan to tackle gender inequality.
Women’s Foundation President Anne-Cécile Mailfert, who launched the appeal, admitted that she did not even ask Le Pen to sign the text.
“Marine Le Pen is not, and will never be, on women’s side, because she is on the far right. And wherever the far right has come to power, women’s rights have gone backwards. She may be a woman, but look at who she allies herself with [Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian President], and who her supporters are [Gilbert Collard, Éric Zemmour]. Five years after #MeToo she has discovered that she is a feminist. She knows that she can’t ignore the fight for women’s rights in France and because she is a populist, she says what people want to hear.”
Many groups fear that Le Pen will erode abortion rights if she is running France, although she has not spoken openly about taking a stand against abortion. Le Pen spoke out against extending the time limit for abortions from 12 to 14 weeks – before the bill was passed by the French parliament in February 2022.
“We only have to look at what’s happening in feminist groups in other countries, such as Hungary, where the far right is in power,” explains Françoise Brié, director-general of the national federation Solidarité Femmes, which specialises in receiving, supporting and sheltering women victims of violence in France.
El-Khoury points out that Le Pen has often referred to “abortions of convenience” – suggesting that women rely on abortion instead of using contraception – and dramatises abortion in her speeches, which is typical of anti-abortionists.
Macron ‘never goes far enough’
Mailfert of the Women’s Foundation said she had passed the 10-point emergency plan to tackle gender inequality on to Macron.
“He replied that he agreed with most of our proposals. But we are still waiting. He hasn’t signed it yet.”
Macron has declared that he will once again make gender equality the “great cause” of his next five-year term, because there is still “a lot to do”. But as far as feminist groups are concerned, he still has to prove himself.
Brié says there has been progress in some areas, particularly on the legislative front, citing for example the ban on family mediation in cases of domestic violence adopted in 2020. For its part, Osez le féminisme says there have been steps in the right direction, but that they “never go far enough”.
Indeed, the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed against minors has been extended from 20 to 30 years and feminist groups have welcomed a doubling of paternity leave to 28 days, while regretting that Macron opposed a more ambitious European directive of extending parental leave to four months.
One billion euros for gender equality
“We accept that we have talked about the fight against gender inequality a lot under his presidency … but overall there is a lack of resources to enforce measures at all levels: police, justice, associations,” says Brié. “The High Council for Equality between Women and Men (HCE) recommends that 1 billion euros [be allocated to tackling gender inequality], but the budget allocated during his five-year term has not exceeded 340 million: we are well below this amount,” says Osez le féminisme.
“We expect him to devote this billion euros to women’s rights and to adopt a framework law that follows the High Council for Equality’s recommendations,” adds El-Khoury.
Macron’s ‘feminism washing’
El Khoury says she is frustrated by Macron’s time in power. She feels that the outgoing president has made “a lot of false promises and empty PR gestures that were not followed through with resources”.
“The feminist victories of the last five years have been won by the strength of the associations’ lobbying,” she says.
On the subject of equal pay, Osez le féminisme goes so far as to accuse Macron of “feminism washing”, meaning he “displays feminist credentials, ticks boxes, when the work and investment are not there”.
The groups also cited the inadequacy of the equal pay index “in which all companies get good marks, even if they don’t respect the law”.
Lastly, Gérald Darmanin’s appointment as interior minister in July 2020, when he was accused of rape, was completely unacceptable to women’s rights groups.
Darmanin was never indicted in the case – he was only heard as an assisted witness. On January 13, 2022 the Paris prosecutor asked for the case to be dismissed, leaving the possibility open for the investigation to be reopened.
This article has been translated from the original in French.