Legislative and policy framework
Equality is one of the fundamental ideals underpinning the French Constitution. The principle of gender equality was introduced in the Preamble to the 1946 Constitution, which, like the 1958 Constitution, referenced the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.
France has a tradition of gender equality legislation in employment and professional life. Beginning with the Law of 22 December on equal pay in 1972, at least 12 laws were adopted on the topic prior to 2014, including the 1983 Law on professional equality. Although France has a record of gender equality legislation, the Law on professional equality between women and men, adopted in 2000, was the first law to integrate gender equality concerns outside gender equality policy areas. Moreover, France does not have a national strategy on gender equality per se.
The French legislative and policy framework on gender equality developed increasingly complex measures in the areas of reproductive rights (fundamental law legalising abortion in 1975), work, social protection, pensions, violence against women, access to decision-making and fighting gender-based discrimination. However, the first comprehensive overarching legislation to pomote gender equality in society as whole was only adopted in 2014 with the Act on Real Equality between Women and Men. The Act summarises previous legislative steps and enhances the effectiveness of implementation measures in various gender equality areas. Article 1 of the Act also contains the first explicit reference to gender mainstreaming, referred to as an ‘integrated approach on gender’. It introduced an important change in the legislative framework for gender equality by promoting an ‘integrated and transversal approach to gender equality,’ i.e. the integration of gender equality in all policy fields. This law is a framework ruling that aims to assemble and reinforce all previous laws in the area of gender equality, across all spheres of life. It precisely defines the field of public policy dealing with gender equality and stipulates that gender equality is the prerogative of both national and local authorities.
The most important National Action Plan to date was the Inter-ministerial Plan for gender equality at work 2016-2020, although it was not renewed for 2021 (Plan interministériel en faveur de l'égalité professionnelle entre les femmes et les hommes, PIEP). The Plan aimed to combat structural inequalities between women and men in employment. It relied on a gender mainstreaming approach that involved the SDFE, other departments of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Health and Women's Rights, and some other ministries, in supporting social partners’ involvement and negotiation at the level of occupational branches.
In line with the government’s commitment to gender equality, The Ministry of Culture has become particularly active, developing a roadmap for gender equality 2018-2022, with the Minister and labour unions signing a Memorandum of Understanding for gender equality at work. Many ministries have adopted an action plan for gender equality.
Governmental equality bodies
The government has a Deputy Minister responsible for gender equality matters attached to the Prime Minister’s Office since 2017. Although the deputy minister responsible for gender equality is a junior Minister and thus few resources, the fact that the Deputy Minister is attached to the Prime Minister’s office may, however, positively impact gender mainstreaming.
At national level, the Service for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (SDFE) is the governmental body responsible for gender equality and gender mainstreaming. It is under the responsibility of the General Directorate for Social Cohesion (Direction générale de la cohesion sociale, DGCS), located within the Ministry of Solidarity and Health. Authority over the SDFE is shared between the Ministry of Solidarity and Health, and the Deputy Minister responsible for gender equality and the fight against discrimination (among others). The SDFE is positioned at a relatively low level of the Ministry and therefore has no authority in respect of other ministries’ decisions, thus limiting its influence in relation to gender mainstreaming.
The SDFE promotes women’s rights and gender equality at national, regional, and departmental level. It coordinates 26 regional and 100 district Delegations for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, thereby providing France with a dense institutional network to implement a gender mainstreaming strategy. The policy fields and influence of the SDFE mandate have varied over time, depending on the status of its political authority and the size of its staff. The SDFE has regional management (in all mainland regions and overseas territories) and department delegates.
The High Council for Equality between Women and Men (Haut Conseil à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, HCE or HCEfh) is an independent advisory body that was created by the Decree of 3 January 2013 replacing the Observatory on Parity (OP, created in 1995). The 2017 Law on equality and citizenship recognised the independence of the HCE. It covers a wide range of areas and, in terms of its organisational structure has five thematic commissions.
The HCE contributes to the evaluation of public policies regarding equality between women and men by ensuring the evaluation of impact studies of laws, by collecting and disseminating analyses related to equality and by formulating recommendations and opinions to the Prime Minister. Since 2017, the HCE has also been tasked with presenting an annual report on the state of sexism in France.
In addition to its thematic commissions, the HCE monitors the Superior Council for Gender Equality at Work (CSEP). The CSEP (Conseil supérieur de l’égalité professionnelle entre les femmes et les hommes) is a tripartite advisory body dedicated to gender equality in employment and working conditions. First instituted as part of the SDFE by the so-called ‘Roudy law’ of 13 July 1983, it became a full advisory body in 2013 (Decree No. 2013-371 of 30 April 2013). It was integrated into the HCE in July 2021.
Since the late 1990s, gender mainstreaming has been promoted and coordinated through inter-ministerial cooperation. In 2012, an Inter-ministerial Committee of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality was established (Decree No. 2012-1097 of 28 September 2012), with responsibility for the enforcement of women’s rights, the fight against gender stereotypes and discrimination, combating gender-based violence and the promotion of gender equality in all fields of government action. The Committee meets at least twice a year, with all Government Ministers in attendance. It is presided over by the Prime Minister or the Deputy Minister responsible for Equality between Women and Men. The Committee adopts the Inter-ministerial Action Plan for professional equality between women and men, as well as an Inter-ministerial Plan to combat violence against women.
Independent equality body
The Defender of Rights is an independent administrative authority (autorité administrative indépendante, AAI) that replaced the Ombudsperson, the Defender of Children, and the High Authority against discrimination (Haute Autorité de lutte contre les discriminations, Halde).
The Defender of Rights Tasks
- Defence of rights of users of public services
- Defence and promotion of children's rights
- Fight against discrimination and promotion of equality
- Respect of ethics by security professionals
- Protection of whistle-blowers
The Defender of Rights was created in 2011 (Organic Law of 29 March 2011) to combat discrimination and promote equality on several grounds, including gender, and to defend and promote human rights, including women’s rights. Any person can refer to the Defender of Rights directly, and at no cost, if they believe they have been discriminated against. This institution possesses multiple tools, such as significant investigation powers and legal instruments to protect and defend. The National Assembly and the Senate regularly consult the Defender of Rights on draft legislations. The Defender of Rights can propose legislative modifications and can publish its opinion on a proposition/project of law without being solicited.
Gender is under-represented in terms of discrimination claims reported to the Defender of Rights. Indeed, the 2020 Annual Activity Report reveals that claims relating to discrimination on the grounds of sex account for 5.1 % of the claims reported, with gender identity representing 1.6 % of the claims, and sexual orientation representing 1.4 % of the claims filed. The institution has no dedicated unit for gender equality and none of its experts are dedicated to gender-based discrimination. Intersectionality is part of its approach, with discrimination on the grounds of gender often linked to other grounds for discrimination, such as disability or ethnicity.
The Defender of rights has 250 employees at the national administration level and more than 500 delegates spread across the French regional administrations.
In France, there is no specific commission specialised in gender equality at parliamentary level. Instead, two permanent delegations are responsible for gender equality, one in the National Assembly and the other in the Senate, established under law No. 99-585 of 12 July 1999 creating parliamentary Delegations of Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities between Men and Women (Délégations aux droits des femmes et à l'égalité des chances entre les hommes et les femmes). However, the fact that both are congressional delegations and not commissions means that their resources are low and that they cannot propose amendments. These delegations produce informational reports on dedicated topics, often in line with bills. Reports rely on hearings with civil society representatives, social partners, experts, or researchers.
Since February 2000, a Delegation of Women’s Rights and Equality within the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental, CESE) has also been in place, a consultative and representative assembly that replaced the Economic and Social Council in 2008 (Constitutional Law of 23 July 2008; Organic Law of 28 June 2010).
Regional, departmental, and local authorities may initiate their own gender equality policies. Decentralised services such as the SDFE oversee the regional or departmental implementation of national gender equality policy.
The SDFE has devolved units in mainland France and in its overseas territories. These units are under the authority of the State, in line with French devolution principles. At national level, the SDFE is part of the DGCS, while its regional authorities (DRDFE) are under the influence of regional prefects. Its departmental delegates (DDDFE) are overseen by either departmental prefects or the corporate Devolution Administration of Social Cohesion.
In mainland France, Regional Councils are the administrative units responsible for defining local policy. In Corsica and overseas territories, this responsibility is held by territorial collectives (regional level) and departmental councils (departmental level). Many regions, departments and other local authorities develop their own gender equality policies. According to Article L111 of the Local Authorities Code, competence for the promotion of gender equality is shared among regional and departmental/local authorities.
Methods and tools
In 2012, the then Ministry of Women's Rights developed a methodology and tools for gender mainstreaming. All ministries were required to have a roadmap in place, with high-level officials in central administrations required to take responsibility for its monitoring, and the results being presented at annual gender equality conferences. This methodology was in operation between 2013 and 2016. At present, despite its legal basis, gender mainstreaming increasingly relies on goodwill and inter-ministerial cooperation.
Gender impact assessment and gender budgeting
According to document 137 of the 2022 Programme (establishing the budget for Equality between Women and Men at national government level), following the piloting of gender budgeting procedures in several programmes in 2020, the project was gradually extended to other budget programmes throughout 2021-2022. This extension is monitored and organised by a pilot group of ministries. The SDFE manages this initiative with the aim of taking gender equality issues into account when making budgetary choices, as well as analysing the impact of all public measures through improved and gendered performance indicators when targeting specific audiences. The HCE has also issued advice on the development of gender budgeting, including a proposed methodology.
Training and awareness-raising
Gender equality bodies provide gender equality training. In December 2018, the CSEP produced a kit for promoting gender equality in occupational classifications. Similarly, in 2016, the HCE issued a guide designed to ensure public communication is free of gender stereotypes.
The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut national des statistiques et des études économiques, Insee) has a webpage dedicated to gender statistics. The website showcases the most important data through infographics and presents an annual report on equality between women and men broken down by themes: women victims of violence, equality in the workplace, geographical inequalities, and political representation. Other publications focusing on women and men in the workplace are published on the Ministry of Labour’s DARES website, while the Ministry of Education’s DEPP regularly issues publications about equality between girls and boys from school to higher education. On its website, the Deputy Minister of Gender Equality also publishes a report on key figures related to gender equality.
Moreover, the Ministry responsible for Equality between Women and Men and Equal Opportunities publishes an annual report entitled ‘Key Figures: Towards Real Gender Equality’. The report is a tool designed to raise awareness on the state of equality between women and men. It presents key figures in the form of infographics, the latest sex-disaggregated statistics available in the fields of employment, education, health, culture, and violence against women, in France and worldwide. The 2021 version sheds light on the impact of the pandemic on women and on the state of gender equality in the workplace.
EIGE carried out data collection in 2021 for the four officially agreed-on indicators on institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming, and to monitor progress on Area H of the Beijing Platform for Action. Institutional mechanisms refer to national machineries that implement, monitor, evaluate, and mobilise support for policies that promote gender equality and gender mainstreaming. No data is available for France as no response was received from the relevant authorities. Data for other Member States, as well as data for Ireland from previous data collections, is available on the Gender Statistics Database here.
 Law on Equal pay (1972) https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/jorf/id/JORFTEXT000000875404
 Law on professional equality (1983) https://www.vie-publique.fr/eclairage/19590-chronologie-des-droits-des-femmes
 Chronology of women’s rights in France (2022) https://www.vie-publique.fr/eclairage/19590-chronologie-des-droits-des-femmes
 Law on professional equality between women and men (2001) https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/jorf/id/JORFTEXT000000756495
 Law on abortion (1975) https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/jorf/id/JORFTEXT000000700230
 Law for Real Equality between Women and Men (2014) https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/loda/id/JORFTEXT000029330832?init=true&page=1&query=Loi+2014-873+%C3%83
 French Ministry of Culture (2018) Roadmap for gender equality https://www.culture.gouv.fr/Presse/Communiques-de-presse/Feuille-de-route-Egalite-2018-2022
 High Council for Equality between Women and Men (2021). 2020-2021 Report on the state of sexism in France https://www.haut-conseil-egalite.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapport_2020-2021-etat_du_sexisme_en_france-v3--2.pdf
 Decree No. 2021-921 (2021) https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/jorf/id/JORFTEXT000043776870
 Defender of Rights (n.d.) Avis au Parlement (Opinions/recommendations to the Parliament) https://juridique.defenseurdesdroits.fr/index.php?lvl=cmspage&pageid=12&id_rubrique=106&opac_view=11
 Delegation for Women’s Rights and Equality (n.d.) https://www.lecese.fr/decouvrir-cese/delegations/droits-femmes-egalite
 Economic, Social and Environmental Council (n.d.) https://www.lecese.fr/decouvrir-cese/cese-en-bref
 Programme 137 (2022) https://www.budget.gouv.fr/files/uploads/extract/2022/PLF/BG/PGM/137/FR_2022_PLF_BG_PGM_137_STRAT.html
 HCE (2016). Guide on gender-stereotypes-free communication https://www.haut-conseil-egalite.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/guide_pour_une_communication_publique_sans_stereotype_de_sexe_vf_2016_11_02.compressed.pdf
 Insee (2022). Women and Men, equality matters https://www.insee.fr/fr/information/2546889; Insee (2021). Equality between Women and Men https://www.insee.fr/fr/outil-interactif/5367857/tableau/40_SOC/44_EGF
 Ministry of Labour (n.d.) https://dares.travail-emploi.gouv.fr/
 Ministry of Education DEPP (2022). Girls and boys on the road to equality. From primary school to graduate studies https://www.education.gouv.fr/filles-et-garcons-sur-le-chemin-de-l-egalite-de-l-ecole-l-enseignement-superieur-edition-2022-340445
 Ministry in charge of Equality between Women and Men (2021) Key figures https://www.egalite-femmes-hommes.gouv.fr/publication-de-ledition-2021-des-chiffres-cles-vers-legalite-reelle-entre-les-femmes-et-les-hommes
 Ministry of Equality between Women and Men (2021) Report Key Figures: Towards Real Gender Equality https://www.egalite-femmes-hommes.gouv.fr/sites/efh/files/migration/2022/02/Chiffres-cles-EFH-2021-VEN.pdf