More women in parliament, but minorities struggle

19th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 19, 2007 (AFP) - Women hold a record number of seats in the new French parliament, including the first ever black female deputy elected on the mainland, but legislative elections Sunday failed to radically shift the balance in a chamber still dominated by white men.

PARIS, June 19, 2007 (AFP) - Women hold a record number of seats in the new French parliament, including the first ever black female deputy elected on the mainland, but legislative elections Sunday failed to radically shift the balance in a chamber still dominated by white men.

Political parties on the left and right were under pressure to boost the share of women and black and Arab lawmakers in the National Assembly.

They can claim a partial success: 107 of the assembly's 577 seats went to women candidates, a jump of 31 deputies compared to the outgoing chamber.

With 18.5 percent of seats now held by women, France lifts its country ranking in terms of women's representation in parliament from an embarrassing 86th to 58th spot, in between Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Coming after Segolene Royal's failed bid to become France's first woman president, the result -- which ushers in 61 women lawmakers on the left and 46 on the right -- was greeted as a step in the right direction.

It also follows the appointment by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France's first government with gender parity, with seven of 15 cabinet posts held by women, a balance expected to remain following this week's government reshuffle.

But Le Monde newspaper said the improved number of women in parliament -- lifting France just above the European average of 17.7 percent -- was in itself "nothing to be proud of."

France sought to boost the number of women in parliament with a 2000 law obliging parties to field an equal number of men and women candidates, but it has only been partly followed despite heavy fines for offending parties.

The country ranks 15th in the 27-member European Union, and is dwarfed by countries in northern Europe, where women hold an average of 41.6 percent of parliament seats.

The opposition Socialist Party's secretary for women's rights, Laurence Rossignol, was quick to point out the higher proportion of women in her party's ranks -- where they make up 25 percent.

Of the 318 seats won by Sarkozy's right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), she said, only 14 percent went to women. The party had fielded less than 30 percent women candidates.

Representing ethnic diversity in parliament has also been a frontline issue since the 2005 riots in France's immigrant-heavy suburbs, where black and Arab populations complain they are shut out of mainstream society.

Sarkozy made headway last month when he appointed Rachida Dati, a French-born magistrate of north African parents, as justice minister.

But despite a record number of black and Arab candidates vying for seats -- Sarkozy's UMP fielded 12, the Socialists 20, and smaller parties several dozen -- only one seat on the mainland went to a minority candidate.

George Pau-Langevin, a lawyer born on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, was elected to a seat in eastern Paris on a Socialist ticket.

She joins fifteen deputies elected in overseas territories, where the majority of the population is black.

Togolese-born Kofi Yamgnane was elected in 1997 to the National Assembly as a Socialist deputy from the northern Brittany region but he lost his seat in 2002.

Although France is home to Europe's biggest Muslim community, with about five million people, mainly descendants of immigrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa, no candidates of African origin were elected.

The French Council of Muslim Democrats issued a statement regretting that "the republic's diversity will not be represented in the National Assembly, because political parties did not give it enough importance."

Several minority candidates have said major parties were hamstrung by incumbents who did not want to give up a winnable seat in the name of promoting diversity.

Azouz Begag, a former minister of Algerian origin who was knocked out of the race for parliament, has said he believes the French were not "quite ready" to elect minorities.

"Let's be frank. I think the French people are not quite ready to vote for candidates that they consider foreigners," he said.

Other European countries have started to correct the ethnic balance in parliament, including Britain which counts 15 minority MPs out of 646, and Germany with three Turkish and one Iranian MPs in the Bundestag.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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