Women cheer on Royal but will they vote for her?

6th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 6, 2007 (AFP) - Women in France are celebrating a milestone as a woman for the first time stands a fighting chance of becoming the next president, but they are not necessarily going to vote for Segolene Royal.

PARIS, March 6, 2007 (AFP) - Women in France are celebrating a milestone as a woman for the first time stands a fighting chance of becoming the next president, but they are not necessarily going to vote for Segolene Royal.

The Socialist candidate is shaking up France's male-dominated politics with her graceful looks, emotional pledges to help children of the poor suburbs and professed drive to bring profound change to the nation.

"The fact that finally, a woman is a serious presidential contender is an extraordinary breakthrough," said Francoise Delamour, vice president of the Council of French Women, one of France's oldest women's groups.

"Women really wanted her to be a candidate, but then they began looking at the programmes and comparing. I don't see that there will be a women's vote for Segolene," she said, speaking ahead of International Women's Day on March 8.

The 53-year-old mother of four is trailing slightly behind right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy for the April-May vote and polls show the candidates are drawing almost equal support from men and women.

Royal has unabashedly proclaimed that she is bringing a woman's touch to politics and complained of sexist hurdles in the way of her road to the presidency.

"I am at ease with my identity as a woman," Royal said last month in a high-profile television appearance. "I have a different way of doing politics and that is what is disconcerting."

"No man with my professional background would have had his competence and legitimacy permanently called into question. It's much harder for a woman," she said.

In her elections programme unveiled last month, Royal has proposed a new law on domestic violence and a series of anti-poverty measures that will benefit women, who find themselves more often than men in the lower rung of the economic ladder.

During her stint as schools minister, Royal gave permission for the morning-after pill to be distributed in schools and also created paternity leave to encourage men to take more responsibility for child care.

But she makes no claim to be a champion of womens' rights, or a feminist for that matter.

While women were out in force during the May 1968 student uprisings to try to advance their demands, Royal was preparing to enter the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), the seedbed of France's political elite.

"She is presenting herself as a mother who wants for all of the children of France the same benefits that her children have had," said Janine Mossuz-Lavau, a researcher who has studied voting patterns among women.

Mossuz-Lavau said that the women's vote in France was shared among right-wing and left-wing parties and cited polls showing that Sarkozy enjoyed strong support among women who are drawn by his tough stance on law and order.

"Women will vote for her not just because she's a woman," said Mossuz-Lavau, from the CEVIPOF political institute.

More than half -- 53 percent -- of France's 42 million voters are women.

One of the last western countries to grant women the right to vote, in 1944, France marked a milestone when Edith Cresson became its first woman prime minister in 1991 under Francois Mitterrand. She resigned less than a year later.

Welcoming Royal's nomination as Socialist candidate last November, Cresson said that times had changed since the early 1990s -- and that being a woman was no longer necessarily a handicap in French politics.

"Public opinion is less misogynistic and the political class can no longer express its innate misogyny," she said.

The first woman to make a run for the French presidency was Arlette Laguiller in 1974, who won a little less than 600,000 votes as the candidate of the leftist Worker's Struggle (Lutte Ouvriere) party. She is making her sixth bid for the presidency this year.

Rooted in the struggle for social and political equality, International Women's Day has evolved since the turn of the last century into a worldwide annual celebration of women's strengths and achievements.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article