By Gail Russell Chaddock, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
France has not been kind to its women in public life. Napoleon nixed the idea of public education for women because "they are never called on to live in public." Former President Charles de Gaulle scoffed at the idea of women government ministers, "... of what, knitting?"
And then there's the French language. No term exists for a woman member of Parliament. It's madame le depute - a masculine noun - unless a woman deputy insists on the extra "e" to make the word feminine: deputee. But with a record 63 women elected to Parliament last Sunday - and 1 in 3 Cabinet positions going to women - this one-sided language policy could be about to change, along with a long history of limiting women's participation in French politics.
"We've had to put this question to the highest authorities, because with all these new women, it is beginning to be asked," says a National Assembly spokesman. New Socialist Deputy Marisol Touraine says: "I'm going to insist on that extra 'e.' " Until the June 1 vote, France ranked dead last in Europe in its representation of women in Parliament, with only 5.5 percent women deputies. "Since 1946, the lack of representation of women has been strong and lasting," concluded a recent French government report. Of the 63 women the French people elected to their National Assembly, only 57 will serve. The other six have been asked to join new Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's government. Mr. Jospin named a total of eight women to his government, including three in top positions. Included in these top appointments is the No.2 position in France's new government, second only to the prime minister. Martine Aubry will hold this post as the labor minister. Following Britain's lead British Prime Minister Tony Blair also infused Labour Party ranks with women, which doubled the representation of women in Parliament after the May 1 vote. For Labourites, the decision to assign quotas for women candidates was a simple electoral calculation: Tories had cornered the lion's share of women's votes, and if Labour was to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat, it would need to win them back. Of the 119 women elected to Parliament last month, 101 are members of the Labour Party. But for Socialist leader Jospin, the decision to run nearly 30 percent women as candidates was a tougher call, with fewer guarantees of success. Some analysts predicted that it could have lost Socialists the election, because the new women candidates would not attract votes as would more experienced male candidates. …