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The first explicit references to gender mainstreaming in national policy documents emerged in 2000, when the re-establishing of a state secretary for women’s rights and equality in the workplace coincided both with a new spur to gender-equality policies at the domestic level, and the full integration of gender equality in the European Union (EU) legal framework. From 2001 onwards, a summary of gender-equality policies was included in the Orientation Act of the Finance Law (Loi d’orientation de la loi de finance, LOLF), which was later (2010) transformed into a comprehensive Transversal Policy Document on Gender Equality, also appended to the LOLF.

This situation has changed dramatically since 2012, when effective gender-equality policies received impetus following the victory of left-wing parties during presidential and parliamentary elections. This political backdrop also provided the context for the implementation of gender mainstreaming.

This electoral breakthrough coincided with a paradigm shift, which was characterised by an unprecedented commitment to gender equality, and took concrete form in the re-establishment of an independent Women’s Rights Ministry, which had been shut down over two decades before. As a result, the adoption of a gender-equality action plan by each ministry became compulsory and gender-equality officers, answerable to the Women’s Rights Minister, were appointed in each policy area.

In the absence of a gender-equality act covering a variety of issues, attempts to implement gender mainstreaming remained scarce over the 2000s, and were mostly limited to non-binding documents, such as the Charter for Gender Equality (Charte pour l’égalité) presented by the Minister of Parity and Equality in the Workplace in 2004, which contemplated policy actions in favour of gender equality within sectorial administration and ministries.

Although the French legislative and policy framework on gender equality had developed increasingly complex measures in the areas of reproductive rights, work, social protection, pensions, violence against women, access to decision-making and fighting gender-based discrimination, only in 2014 was a comprehensive act on gender equality, the Act on Equality between Men and Women, adopted. This text, which summarises previous legislative steps and enhances the effectiveness of implementation measures in various gender-equality areas, contains the first explicit reference to gender mainstreaming in its first article.