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France reveals new gender equality laws

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The French government is to introduce major changes to the country’s sexual equality laws.

New draft laws proposed last week include tougher enforcement of equal pay laws and stronger measures on domestic violence.

Under these laws, employers will be inspected to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for equal work, and companies could be forced to raise salaries for women or lower them for men.

Courts will be granted greater powers to deal quickly with violent male partners, and women victimised by domestic violence will have access to free mobile phones to contact the police.

And from 2013, primary school children will receive lessons on the “ABC of gender equality”, in an effort to combat gender stereotypes.

Women’s rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has called the proposals “the third generation of equality legislation after women were given the right to vote in 1944 and abortion was legalised in 1975.”

The World Economic Forum’s 2012 gender equality report (PDF) placed France 57th out of 135 countries in its gender gap index, which takes account of factors such as wage inequality, access to education and health care, and the percentage of women in politics. In terms of wage inequality, France was ranked 129th.

Despite the country’s strong tradition of feminist protest and scholarship, traditional gender stereotypes are still particularly ingrained in French culture. Many young women reject feminism as being out of date and too aggressive towards men.

This thinking was exemplified this week when Carla Bruni, wife of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, told Vogue that her generation “doesn’t need feminism”.

Vallaud-Belkacem spoke out strongly against Bruni’s remarks, saying that “We need everyone to be a feminist. Feminism is the fight for the equality of sexes, not for the domination of one sex over another.”

Vallaud-Belkacem’s Ministry of Women’s Rights was created by President François Hollande after his election win in May this year.

These new laws follow up on election promises to improve gender equality.

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