Gender – International Women Day 8 March 2017 – Lakeshore Hotel
Speech of HE Sophie Aubert, Ambassador of France to Bangladesh
This day that we call International Women Day is in fact the international Women’s rights Day. In my view, it is important to recall that point, because we cannot reduce this day to the celebration of women.
This day is to remind of the fact that women do have rights, and that too often, they are obliged to struggle to get these rights respected. I thank the EU delegation to have taken the lead in organizing this discussion around women’s rights in our societies. I would like to address more specifically the issue of the challenges women are facing to set up their professional places and develop a career in our societies. I would like to seize this opportunity to describe the situation in France regarding women and working life. In France, globally, we can say that we are attached to the gender issue and that we want to ensure women’s rights.
•Let me recall that the Declaration of the women’s rights and the rights of the female citizen was an initiative dating back to 1791 from Olympe de Gouges, a French woman, during the difficult but exciting time of the post French revolution.
•But in France, we had to wait 1945 to see women being given the right to vote for the political elections. It’s not that far behind, just a little bit more than 70 years ago.
•More recently in the 60’s, Simone de Beauvoir, one of our famous French female philosophers, was saying that women access to working life was the most important way to limit the distance separating females from males.
•I would add another reason for the distance between men and women to reduce: this distance started to reduce when the women could build an independent life, which means:
When they could get access to contraception and to abortion, becoming in the position of deciding what they could do with their own life. And this happened mainly in 1974, only 45 years ago, thanks to the feminist movements. In my country, the improvement of the females’ situation is directly linked to the fundamental principles of our Constitution, guiding our republic and the role played by the public administration.
The motto of my country is, as you know, liberty, equality, fraternity. These principles were those on which was built the French public administration, which was and still is the main jobs provider in France. The French society opened the door to women, giving them the opportunity to get jobs in the private sector and in the public administration in the last century and before. But despite all the laws saying that women and men are equal in the access to jobs, the fact is that we still face differences:
Women are few in the postings of excellence with a high level of responsibilities, and still there are differences in the respective situation of men and women. For a very long time, women were stuck in jobs without responsibilities, except for a few examples, such as for example Coco Chanel, in the field of fashion. Even if it is now changing, still many stereotypes bar women from responsibilities. Women are still considered to be more adequate to jobs related to education, or social matters. In my country, women are globally paid 15% less than men on equal postings.
We can identify different reasons for that fact:
•One reason is that still we have many men in the high postings. And these people are those who decide, in our administration and private sector. For example, when you have a competition to select candidates, the panel is mainly made of men and men will tend to consider that the female competitors don’t have the appropriate profile or the qualities to be selected. It will take time for women to be at least equally represented in the panels selecting the candidates for high-level postings in the public administration or in private companies.
•Another reason is the heavy weight of the traditions. Men don’t like to be under the authority of women. There is a huge level of misogynies in my country and more globally in our societies.
•And this is a fact, beyond the law. One example: in my ministry, the tradition is to organize meetings late in the evening. This is a way for the men to keep the women away from the important meetings if they have children in charge. This is a misogynist approach mainly bound to get women out of the important decisions.
Other example: do we ask men whether they will be able to manage their household and their professional life when they apply for a job?
One consequence is that women sometimes decide to withdraw themselves from the carrier, because they anticipate that they will not be able to face all the challenges of their professional life if they are alone in their personal life.
Nevertheless we must recognize that some progress has been made. In my administration, some initiatives have been carried out recently to overcome such situations and the mindset is changing.
As a conclusion, I would like to underline two or three points:
a) The law is essential to make progress and help women find their place in the professional world. Our national laws have helped a lot, as well as some European decisions taken in favour of the gender issue.
b)But beyond the law, remain the facts and traditions, and the social mind-set of the society. Men consider as a normal situation to have their wife in charge of the household, including the children. When it happens to be the opposite, it is a strange situation. But why not?
c)In my society, one of the only way for a woman to have important postings at the highest levels is to have a huge support of the family including the husband, or to forget her personal life, I mean not to have children for example.
d)We must recognize that in Europe, women’s rights are a reality, even though the situation is not perfect.
To conclude, I would like to encourage women in Bangladesh to be on the frontline to defend their rights, because it is wrong to believe that any situation can become easier and better by its own./.