8 July 2016
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of France on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Laurence Rossignol, Minister of the Family, Children and Women’s Rights of France, introducing the report, said that France removed its reservations to the Convention in 2013. France had in place a number of tools to advance the rights of women, but challenges remained, particularly due to sexism and cultural relativism. In 2014, a law on real equality between women and men was adopted, which defined, for the first time, the objectives of integrated policy, and specified concrete measures. Schools had the fundamental role of guaranteeing equality of chances for girls and boys, including through the implementation of a plan of action in all schools since September 2014. The 2016 law on modernisation of the health system strengthened the right of women to control their own bodies by easing restrictions on voluntary termination of pregnancy. The prevention of violence against women and support and protection to the victims were at the heart of the Government’s priorities, which consolidated and expanded the efforts through its Fourth Plan for the Prevention and Fight against Violence against Women 2014-2016. In 2013, France adopted a public policy on human trafficking, strengthened the legal framework, established a national coordination mechanism, and adopted its first National Action Plan against Trafficking in Persons 2014-2016.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts remarked that though the Convention entered into force in 1983, it seemed to be virtually unknown in France. Taking positive note of the impressive equality legal framework, they expressed concern about the lack of recognition of multiple and intersectional discrimination that women from some groups suffered. There was a constant disagreement between France and human rights treaty bodies on the question of ethnic and religious statistics, which France did not collect, and lack of such data impeded the taking of appropriate measures to tackle root causes of discrimination, particularly against certain groups of women. Experts raised concern about the increase in Islamophobia in France, and remarked that the role of some political groups in feeding into negative images and representation of Muslim migrants could not be denied. They asked how the mandate of the Inter-Ministerial delegation to fight racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia would be strengthened to enable it to address the very pertinent question of Islamophobia.
School performance was strongly linked to social class, an Expert noted, asking the delegation about measures taken to halt the deterioration of education services in poor and marginalized sectors of the society, including in the overseas territories. The French labour market experienced fundamental problems, including a gender pay gap and a concentration of women in part-time jobs, and there was the fear that the newly adopted El Khomri law on freedoms and flexibility for enterprises had not been adequately assessed for its impact on the rights of women. Experts were very concerned that the law would come at the expense of female employees as it would dilute the protection of workers from dismissal and make it easier to dismiss pregnant employees and those with small children.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Rossignol took note of the concerns that Experts raised with regard to the situation of women in overseas territories, migrant women and Roma women, and reiterated that France took racism against Muslim women seriously. France was fighting against all forms of racism and discrimination and would protect all women who escaped violence and certain interpretations of religion.
The delegation of France included representatives of the Ministry of the Family, Children and Women’s Rights, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research, Ministry of Interior, Ministry for Overseas France, Ministry of Justice, Inter-Ministerial Delegation for the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, French Office of Immigration and Integration, and the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The country reviews can be watched via live webcast at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
The Committee will reconvene in public on Monday, 11 July, at 4 p.m., to meet with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from Albania, Turkey, Uruguay, Mali, and Trinidad and Tobago whose reports it will review during the remainder of the session.
The combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of France can be read here: CEDAW/C/FRA/7-8.
Presentation of the Report
LAURENCE ROSSIGNOL, Minister of the Family, Children and Women’s Rights of France, said that in 2013, France had removed its reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and reiterated France’s commitment to the fundamental principles of the Convention. Even though France had put in place a number of tools to advance the rights of women, challenges remained and progress in achieving equality between women and men faced headwinds related to sexism and cultural relativism. The Government had made equality between women and men a key pillar of its work; it had become a part of the daily work of ministries, which adopted different tools to that end, such as diagnostic and analysis of the situation, while the promotion of cross-cutting and integrated approaches was contributing to the true culture of equality that France was putting in place.
Every year, an estimated 221 million Euros were allocated to women’s rights and equality between women and men. France was also contributing to equality between women and men through its diplomacy and international solidarity. On 4 August 2014, France had adopted the law on real equality between women and men, which had defined, for the first time, the objectives of the integrated policy for equality between women and men, and defined specific measures in a number of areas. The law was being fully implemented by the Service for the Rights of Women and for Equality, together with 12 concerned ministries.
Schools had the fundamental role of guaranteeing the equality of chances for girls and boys, which was strengthened by the law of 8 July 2013; this law assigned schools the objective of raising the awareness of children with regard to equality and mutual respect, starting in primary school. A plan of action for equality between girls and boys in school was being implemented in all schools since September 2014, and since 2015, two pathways had been put in place which contributed to the elimination of stereotypes and discrimination: Citizen pathway to overcome stereotypes and Future pathway which allowed all secondary school students to learn about the diversity of professions and question social and sexist stereotypes which influenced the choice of profession by girls and boys. As per the provisions of the 2013 law on Higher Education and Research, all universities had nominated a focal person for equality between women and men.
A very important axis of the real equality policy was to guarantee that all women could exercise their fundamental rights, starting with the right to control their own bodies. The law on modernisation of the health system, adopted on 26 January 2016, eased restrictions on voluntary termination of pregnancy, including by removing the requirement of “distress” and the period of compulsory reflection prior to termination, and allowing midwifes to perform medical termination. The 2016 Law on Social Security Financing ensured free-of-charge access to contraceptives to adolescents, and a hotline had been set up to provide information on sexuality, voluntary termination of pregnancy and contraception, which received about 2,000 calls per month, of which 33 were related to contraception. France remained committed to improving the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights. Prevention of violence against women and support and protection to the victims was at the heart of the Government’s priorities. The fourth Plan for the Prevention and Fight against Violence against women (2014-2016) had been an opportunity to consolidate the efforts to support and protect victims. In 2013, France had adopted a public policy on human trafficking, strengthened its legal framework and established a national coordination mechanism, and had also adopted its first National Action Plan against Trafficking in Persons 2014-2016.
Questions from the Experts
Although the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had entered into force in 1983, it seemed to be virtually unknown in France; a Committee Expert asked about measures taken to ensure the training of judges, lawyers, prosecutors and other officials in the provisions and application of the Convention and its Optional Protocol. France had an impressive equality legal framework, but concerns existed about the implementation of the right to collective action, discrimination in the law on nationality, and sexual harassment, so the delegation was asked whether judicial procedure recognized multiple and intersectional discrimination, and about measures taken to ensure strict application of standards for the protection of refugee women and asylum seekers in the camps in France?
The absence of ethnic and religious statistics was often criticised and gaps in such data had negatively impacted the taking of measures to address discrimination against certain groups; was France considering taking measures to modernize its system of statistics and data collection? Were gender perspectives systematically integrated in dialogue with countries which bought arms from France and was France certain of the effectiveness of its arms sale monitoring mechanisms, and that weapons sold by France were not used to violate the rights of women, particularly in conflict and crisis areas?
Responses by the Delegation
Responding to the question on whether the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women could be directly invoked by the courts in France, the delegation explained that the Convention had been rarely invoked by the Cassation Court, simply because the Court had been rarely seized on the matter. However, there had been a decision handed down by the Criminal Chamber on 2 December 2015, in which the applicant had invoked both this Convention and the European Convention for Human Rights. Committees on combatting racial discrimination had been established throughout France by prefects; officials in charge of women’s issues participated in their meetings, bringing up issues of sexism and discrimination against women, including racial discrimination.
With regard to the lack of ethnic and religious-based statistics and data, the delegation spoke of alternative approaches to address discrimination against women. One such measure was the obligation to prepare, with every bill presented to Parliament, a study and an impact assessment of the bill’s direct and indirect impact on the rights of women and men. The law on the future of the retirement system and the impact on the rights of women was one such example. France realized that more work needed to done on statistics and data collection. The collection of data on ethnic or religious background origin was prohibited in France, and the lack of such data was compensated by different ways of measuring discrimination against certain groups of the population on the grounds of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. At the moment, France was carrying out a comprehensive and ambitious survey on violence against women in the metropolitan France and overseas. The non-collection of ethnic statistics was based on the law which had decreed that the collection of data on race and ethnicity was in violation of the Constitution because it could not be objective, and risked categorizing people into groups that some individuals did not relate to. There were new scientific tools which focused on questions of discrimination and the methodology used was not asking questions on ethnicity, but rather on the origin of parents.
France paid special attention to asylum seekers or those seeking protection in the territory of France. France had received 80,000 asylum requests in 2015 and would have more in 2016; all asylum seekers were entitled to financial assistance and accommodation. France paid attention to the situation in Calais, where 15,000 women had been housed in specific centres, and there were separate accommodation centres for families. Support was being provided to civil society organizations to provide services in the camp. The problem in Calais was that people could not be convinced to seek asylum in France, and they were desperate to get to the United Kingdom. This temptation was also fuelled by manipulation by smugglers. About 30 professional smuggler networks had been dismantled in Calais in 2015. One of the humanitarian approaches to the situation in Calais was to encourage persons to seek asylum in France, which some 2,000 persons so far had done.
The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People provided subsidiary protection to refugees and was in charge of drawing up a list of safe countries to which refugees could be returned. The new law on asylum seekers had strengthened assurances and protection for all asylum seekers, particularly women, including through granting the right to accelerated procedures for particularly vulnerable individuals, such as women victims of trafficking.
France was strongly committed to combatting illegal trafficking of arms, particularly small arms, and was a party to the Arms Trade Agreement. The export of arms was case-by-case based and rested firmly on criteria defined by international humanitarian law and the counter-terrorism laws. Decisions to sell arms strongly considered the situation of women in the country of destination.
The Twenty-first Century Justice Bill, currently discussed by Parliament, would make it possible for the baseline framework law to be adopted on class action. It established a procedural baseline for all class-action suits in regard to discrimination, and conditions for its entry into force were still being considered. Class action was the mechanism designed to speed up compensation for rights violations of many individuals or a group individuals, originating from actions by professionals. Class action suit could be requested by a trade union, which would thus receive the mandate to do so by several victims.
In follow-up questions and comments, Committee Experts remarked that strong migratory flows witnessed in 2015 and so far in 2016 would not abate, in fact, the twenty-first century would be the century of migration: how could France ensure that people did not turn to smugglers, and what was the proportion of procedures that had been taken out of the accelerated track and put back into the normal track? There was a constant disagreement between France and human rights treaty bodies and human rights mandate holders on the question of ethnic and religious statistics, with France repeatedly asked to revisit its system. The French report did not offer systematic information on the situation and activities in the overseas territories.
On providing additional information on efforts to ensure dissemination and training of professionals in the Convention and its Optional Protocol, a delegate said that the Inter-ministerial mission for the protection of women from violence and the fight against human trafficking (la mission interministérielle de protection des femmes contre les violences et de lutte contre la traite des êtres humains - MIPROF) had been given a mandate to prepare a plan of action for the training of officials and professionals who were likely to be in contact with violence and women victims of violence. It had prepared several pedagogical kits aimed at health professionals, who were usually the first port of call for women victims of violence. Medical certification blueprints had been put in place which enabled medical professionals to record the victim’s statement and quantify trauma, which could be used as evidence should the case get to trial. Other pedagogical kits, which were also available online, targeted judges, lawyers and prosecutors.
France was hostile to categorization on racial grounds as it believed that there was only one race – the human race, but it did believe that people could have different identities. The Scientific Council on Racial Discrimination had been created, which discussed not how to collect data differently, but how better to use data already available, for example data on violence, including racist violence.
In response to the possibility of ad hoc groups - the coming together of victims and seizing courts on violations of their rights – filing a class action, a delegate explained that for now, the Twenty-first Century Justice Bill only authorised the certified and legally declared association to file a class action, but the Civil Code had the possibility to file joint actions by a group of individuals who suffered discrimination or prejudice.
Questions from the Experts
There had been a step back in France from the centrality of women’s rights, as seen in the frequent changes in the national mechanism. The delegation was asked about financial resources provided for the promotion of the rights of women, how the coordination took place between different mechanisms, and what was their capacity to implement plans and tasks, particularly in overseas territories. The High Council for Equality, created by a Presidential Decree in 2013 seemed to be the only entity dedicated to equality, but it seemed that it operated with very limited resources. What were the intentions to strengthen the mandate of the Inter-Ministerial delegation to fight racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia to address Islamophobia, which was a very pertinent question in France at the moment?
Committee Experts commended the adoption by France of the gender parity principle, rather than adopting temporary special measures in this regard, but this principle was not being adequately implemented throughout the territory, and in specific communities. Would France consider the adoption of temporary special measures to improve the situation of disadvantaged and marginalized groups of women?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the mandate of the Ministry of the Family, Children and Women’s Rights of France was very wide and covered a number of issues of concern to the rights of women and equality between women and men. Family policies were very important in France and were convergent with the gender equality principle; for example the policies on the reception of children from the age of three determined the right of women to work and have a family. There was indeed inter-ministerial coordination for gender equality, which was a mechanism which France strived to constantly improve. The network had about 150 operators throughout the country and Overseas Departments and Territories, to provide concrete support to authorities in implementing policies. The prioritization of actions was done centrally, in line with accepted pillars of the policy: professional equality, prevention of violence against women and combatting sexism. In 2016, some 27 million Euro had been allocated for that purpose. The Human Rights Defender was an independent administrative authority who was a mediator between individuals and the administration, and worked on ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights, including the rights of children. The Human Rights Defender issued reports and recommendations to the administration, and monitored the implementation of such recommendations. The Consultative Commission for Human Rights was another independent institution which covered a range of fundamental rights of individuals and had an oversight over the rights of women and gender equality.
France was fully engaged in the fight against racism, including Islamophobia. In 2015, there had been a strong increase in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic acts. The Government had focused on protection; it was patrolling places of worship and was also monitoring racist speech, including by public officials. The monitoring of violence against Muslim women was ongoing as well, and in 2015, there had been 19 Muslim women victims of violence. Addressing prejudice, from the earliest age, was a priority in France.
Gender parity was guaranteed by the supreme law in France, the Constitution. The implementation of the principle in the elections had led to the equal representation of women in Parliament. Those political parties which failed to present an equal number of women candidates had to pay a fine. There were no problems with the representation of women in Overseas Departments and Territories.
Significant resources were invested in the family policy, representing more than four per cent of the gross domestic product. France did not have the statistical data to say with certainty how much it allocated to various sectors, including to women’s rights and equality between women and men, and said that it would revise its data collection system so that it could provide better answers to human rights treaty bodies.
A Committee Expert hoped that during its next review, France would address the lack of statistics or tools to measure progress or regress in the implementation of policies from qualitative and quantitative points of view.
Questions from the Experts
Gender stereotypes existed in France and it was important to understand the multiple layers in which they were hidden, stressed a Committee Expert. Another issue of concern was the negative images of migrant women or women living in France after migrating, who suffered from multiple forms of discrimination compounded by wide-spread Islamophobia, which was on the rise in France. The role of some political groups in feeding into those negative images and representation could not be denied. Of concern was also discrimination against Roma women, and the sexist images and sexist representation of women in the media. The Expert welcomed a reduction in female genital mutilation and early marriages, and asked what was being done to ensure that women and girls were protected from such harmful traditional practices during visits to countries of origin.
Data showed that the most prevalent purpose for human trafficking was sexual exploitation and prostitution. France condemned the exploitation of others, but even though prostitution was allowed, the law against prostitution remained. Many women engaged in prostitution declared the desire to leave, and the delegation was asked how the new law on the subject would ensure that they were supported in learning a new profession, and to inform the Committee about the progress made on the implementation of the National Action Plan against trafficking in persons, which called for the strengthening of prosecution of perpetrators and support to victims in 2015. Were the resources allocated to the fight against trafficking in persons sufficient to resource the fight against all forms of trafficking in France?
Responses by the Delegation
Responding to the question on action France was taking to fight gender stereotypes and sexism, a delegate explained that France had a legislative baseline machinery which was robust in promoting gender equality and this legal framework was being constantly improved. Nevertheless, gender equality was not progressing at the desired rate, and many women – and men - had to still face the heavy burden of gender stereotypes and sexism. Fighting sexism through the law was not enough; it required mobilizing women and feminist sympathisers in fighting stereotypes where they still existed, including sexism in the media.
France was mobilized to promote the equality of all its citizens, regardless of their religious or political convictions, and it also guaranteed the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The term “racism against Muslims” used by the Committee was not used in France because it would trigger the ideas of restriction of freedom of criticizing religion, thought or opinion, which was a protected right in the country.
In schools, equality between boys and girls was a part of the curriculum from an early age and the education for equality took place through the Citizen and Future pathways, as explained in the introductory remarks. On the reception of refugees and migrants and teaching the values of the Republic to combat stereotypes, a delegate said that training courses were offered to new arrivals in which they were taught that it was important to respect civil rights and that no religious prescriptions could go against those civic rights.
The 2013 law had introduced the criminalization of female genital mutilation and sexual mutilation, including incitement to sexual mutilation, in the Criminal Code. The law punished such violence against minors, even if they had been committed in the pretext of culture and traditions. A national campaign against early marriages had been launched in 2014 and a general email address had been created to facilitate the reporting of such incidents. All such acts, including those committed abroad, had been legally annulled by a judicial order, while victims received support from consulates to return to France.
With regard to the fight against prostitution and trafficking in persons, a delegate said that the new law, which had just been adopted, would be a strong tool in this fight. The law would look into abolishing prostitution without pushing prostitutes into destitution, by offering support in the exit from prostitution. The budget allocated was 2.5 million Euros for 2016, while a Commission would grant the exit support to individuals on a case-by-case basis. The support would also be provided for health, housing, and for children; individuals who were not entitled to social protection would receive financial support, and they would also receive a temporary residence permit.
The National Action Plan against Trafficking in Persons, adopted in May 2014, followed a holistic and integrated approach, and rested on a human rights based approach, protection of victims, prosecution of perpetrators, and prevention of the phenomenon. It was designed to fight all forms of trafficking in persons with a special focus on sexual exploitation of women and children. Three key pillars of the plan were the support to victims through better identification of victims; strengthening of victims’ rights, including by facilitating access to stay in the country through the Law of 30 April 2016 which was the key vector for the implementation of the National Action Plan; and greater protection of witnesses and victims. In order to address the demand side, the Law of 30 April 2016 criminalized the purchase of prostitution.
In follow-up questions, Experts asked the delegation to explain how France addressed gender stereotypes while preserving cultural identity and how it implemented its extraterritorial obligations in the prosecution of female genital mutilation and early marriages in relation to its citizens and permanent residents. An Expert noted that there were 18,000 reported cases of rape per year and asked how many of those were migrant women. The delegation was also asked to inform the Committee on the status of implementation of recommendations made by the High Council for Equality.
Responding, the delegation explained that the statistics related to rape cases could not answer how many were migrant women, also because victims of rape were usually not identified. In terms of the prosecution of French nationals who committed violence against women in a third country, and the implementation of extraterritorial obligations under the Istanbul Convention, a delegate explained that in the case of forced marriage contracted in a third country, the law specifically allowed bringing of charges even if a complaint had not been made by the third country.
The basic assumption was that women who had migrated to France had been victims of violence against women and upon arrival they received health and psychological care. It was not easy to provide them with systematic care, for example in Calais where there were many migrant women, and in such case, the focus was on providing support to victims of sexual violence. There were many obstacles in assisting those women, including language, and the influence that smugglers had over the migrant women.
The law of 30 April 2016 had been the subject of many discussions in the country before it had been adopted. It stipulated that the purchase of prostitution and sexual services were an affront to dignity and bodily integrity of prostitutes who were seen as victims of sexual exploitation, and victims of human trafficking. The law had been designed to achieve gender equality, which could not be achieved as long as there was a belief that women’s bodies were for sale. That was why purchasing of sexual services was criminalized.
The National Action Plan against Trafficking in Persons was aimed at all victims regardless of the form of exploitation, including exploitation and sexual exploitation of children. In order to address trafficking in persons for labour exploitation, work inspectorates had been given a broader mandate and a number of measures had been adopted to combat illegal labour. Special attention was given to children, including children forced to carry out crimes and sexually exploited children. The main objective of the Fifth Plan on the Prevention of Violence against Women would be to consolidate the progress, and to ensure that all cases of violence against women were addressed everywhere in France, including on Overseas Territories, and for all women regardless of their background.
Questions from the Experts
With regard to political representation and participation of women, a Committee Expert remarked that despite the gender parity in the electoral system law, the parity had not yet been achieved in Parliament, due to the behaviour of some political parties which had opted to paying fines rather than putting women on their candidate lists. What other sanctions were being considered to ensure the full implementation of this law, and what measures would be taken to enhance the participation of women in local politics?
The delegation was asked to explain the process of acquiring nationality through marriage, and to inform on the measures taken to ensure that all children born anywhere in France could be registered at birth and receive birth certificates, with particular attention to birth registration in remote areas in French Guyana.
Responses by the Delegation
Responding to the question related to political participation of women, a delegate explained that all additional measures rested in the hands of the Members of Parliament. The Twenty-first Century Justice Bill would extend the delay of registering birth from three to five days, and to eight days in exceptional circumstances, while in overseas territories authorities would go closer to people by boat, thus enabling people to deal with administrative issues, including registering births. The ongoing decentralization process (departmentalization) would ensure that more services were available in Overseas Departments and Territories. It was demonstrated that those regions, departments and communities which were at the forefront of the implementation of the gender parity law, were those which achieved equality between women and men in political participation and representation.
Questions from the Experts
France was one of the countries with greater social segregation in terms of school performance: what measures were being taken to halt the deterioration of the provision of education in poor and marginalized sectors of the society and provide better education opportunities, particularly to girls? What was being done to address the poor school performance of indigenous girls in Guyana and other indigenous territories? Muslim girls experienced discrimination in school because of the overall hostility towards Muslims in the society, and the implementation of the 2004 law which prohibited the wearing of veil. What was the education system doing to ensure that the culture of those girls was respected while not countering the principle of laicité or secularity?
On employment, French labour marked fundamental problems, including gender pay gap, concentration of women in part-time jobs, scarcity of child-care and others. The comprehensive new law on freedoms for enterprises – the El Khomri law - had just been adopted by Parliament, and the Committee Expert expressed concern that those freedoms would come at the expense of female employees and that this effect of the law had not been adequately addressed during the drafting phase. The Expert remarked that the law would dilute the protection of workers from dismissal as it would make it easier to dismiss pregnant employees and those with small children, and asked the delegation what the principle of neutrality that the law contained meant in practice - would it mean that women wearing the veil would be blacklisted even if wearing a veil bore no relevance to their work performance? Had the El Khomri law been assessed for its impact on human rights, and in particular the rights of women? The Expert also raised concerns related to sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace and the situation of Muslim migrant women, and asked whether France would ratify the International Labour Organization Convention 189 on domestic workers.
What measures would be taken to ensure that the law on health was equally applied in overseas territories, and to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates there, particularly in French Guyana?
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that many migrant children, particularly girls, arrived to France with below the average school performance and were obliged to repeat the school year. Data indicated that girls of parents of Maghreb origin performed in school better that boys of the same origin, and higher than average school performance of girls of French parents. There was a strong concern about school performance of girls of Turkish parents, which was lower than the performance of boys, and below the average school performance for France. There was an issue of Muslim girls refusing attendance of physical education classes or sexual and reproductive health which was crucial in combatting gender stereotypes. There was an emergence of private Muslim schools where girls could wear the veil, and many of such schools had agreements with the Ministry whereby part of the teachers’ salaries was paid by the State.
Concerning the reform of the Labour Code, the delegation said that bringing collective bargaining closer to employees would not be detrimental to the situation of women, as a Committee Expert had suggested. The law kept in place safeguards and prevented the enterprises to change the frequency of collective bargaining. There were additional safeguards to ensure that women could return to their jobs after the maternity leave, and had provided for six months compensation in case of dismissal.
Parental leave now was six months for either of the parents for the first child, and two years for the mother and one year for the father for the second child. This reduction in parental leave aimed at facilitating the return of women to work, considering that prolonged absence of women after giving birth was the key negative element affecting the employment of women.
It must be noted that 75 per cent of births in Mayotte were to foreign mothers who would arrive to the territory expressly to give birth. They arrived in late stages of pregnancy, and without appropriate pre-natal monitoring, which partly explained the high infant maternal mortality rates in Mayotte. Bioethical laws were being reviewed and would address the issue of involuntary sex alignment surgery for intersex children. Zika virus was very topical in tropical areas and had an impact on birth, but specific data for now was not available; a specific committee was being established to ensure access to medicines.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert asked the delegation whether there was a law allowing an option of declaring income individually rather than as a family, as an incentive to further empowering women; to explain to which agency France gave 256 million Euros to support gender equality activities abroad through international cooperation; and about the impact of mining projects in the indigenous lands in Guyana on the rights of indigenous rural women. What measures were being taken to combat discrimination against migrant women and women of African origin, in the access to the labour market, health and education, and which specific measures were in place to ensure equal access to education, health and employment of Roma women? The Expert also raised the situation of human rights of women in detention, and asked which guarantees were there that France would respect yet another deadline for the implementation of the 2005 law on persons with disabilities.
Responses by the Delegation
The tax regime in France was based on the family and was family-friendly, and individual tax regimes would have to be considered within the new framework, which was under discussion; this framework would allow married individuals to choose which rate they wanted to be taxed under. The statistical data demonstrated that single parent families were three times more likely to be poor, and poverty also affected rural women, in particular elderly rural women who were often alone. The removal of movement restrictions in 2013 had led to an increase in the number of Roma of Bulgarian and Romanian citizenship; the Government was providing health services and training to support their insertion in the work market. France had just reported to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the delegation invited the Experts to read that periodic report.
Answering follow-up questions, the delegation explained the principle of neutrality in the reformed Labour Law and said that this was a rewarding of the restriction that existed in the old law which allowed employers to limit the demonstration of conviction – religious or political by the employees, if that conviction interfered with the operation of the enterprise. France was currently identifying obstacles in the career development of women that prevented them from occupying high-ranking posts in the civil service.
As a part of the fight against racism, France was trying to ensure that school institutions as a whole were concerned with discrimination and violence against students; France was equally fighting all forms of racism. Women represented 3.6 per cent of the prison population and one of the difficulties they faced was that they were often far away from their families.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert took up the issues of marriage and family life and commended France for streamlining of divorce procedures by mutual consent, and asked whether qualified legal aid would be made available to women of lower economic status to adequately represent them in divorce proceedings. What was being done to ensure that common law couples enjoyed equal protection in economic affairs as married couples? What was the status of the initiatives to modernize customary law, particularly in relation to marriage and divorce, in the Kanak communities?
Responses by the Delegation
In response to those questions, the delegation said that legal aid provided to women during divorce procedures represented 70 per cent of total legal aid allocated to persons with low incomes. The Twenty-first Century Justice Bill would complement the Civil Code in the dispositions of change of gender in the civil registry, and move this procedure away from the courts, where it was taking place today; the text of the law was being currently considered.
LAURENCE ROSSIGNOL, Minister of the Family, Children and Women’s Rights of France, took note of the concerns that Experts raised with regard to the situation of women in overseas territories, migrant women and Roma women. France took racism against Muslim women seriously and was fighting against all forms of racism and discrimination. France would protect all women who escaped certain interpretations of religion, and would protect women from physical violence and harassment imposed by culture.
YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue and encouraged France to take all necessary measures to address the various recommendations made by the Committee.
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