- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

PARIS French politics are set to undergo a sex change after the general election next weekend, with a new law that sets a nationwide 50 percent quota for female candidates.
A "Parity Bill" introduced two years ago to get political parties to put up an equal number of candidates from both sexes for election or face punitive fines.
The legislation came after years of complaints from women that they were being prevented from entering the male-dominated world of politics in France, where they were given the vote in 1944.
Just more than one in 10 members of parliament are women, placing France at the bottom of parity-conscious Western Europe and 52nd in the world.
The figures have long been an embarrassment in a country that styles itself as the birthplace of "liberte, egalite, fraternite."
When the law was applied to local elections in March last year, the number of female councilors shot up from 23 percent to 48 percent. It is being enforced in a general election for the first time, leading to a record number of female candidates.
About 40 percent of those standing in France's 577 constituencies are women, double the number at the last parliamentary election in 1997. Parties that do not meet the sex quota face having their state subsidies reduced by the percentage by which they do not meet the target.
While the financial penalties have not brought richer self-financing mainstream parties into line, smaller parties are too strapped for cash to ignore the new rule.
President Jacques Chirac's party can afford to flout the rules. Less than 20 percent of its candidates are women. Even the Socialist Party filled only 36 percent of its candidate slots with women.
Meanwhile, the traditionally macho National Party led by Jean-Marie Le Pen is fielding 273 women and 290 men.
The Green Party tops the parity charts with 210 female candidates and 194 male candidates.
For years, women have complained that French politics is a misogynistic men's club.
Many leading politicians and writers are, however, at odds with the legislation and its insistence on quotas, which they find demeaning.
"The ideology of quotas breeds sordid and humiliating calculations," said the writer and philosopher Elisabeth Badinter. "Does it really need repeating that politics is above all an ideological choice and has nothing to do with sexual specificity?"
Florence Montreynaud, an outspoken French feminist, described the legislation as a "scandal, a hypocrisy, a perversion of the system. It does nothing to address the main issues at the root of the parity issue in politics, such as the sharing of household chores."
The parity legislation was introduced by then-Premier Lionel Jospin, a Socialist, after his election in 1997.

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