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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’egalité est uncombat commun

by Paule Masson

Equality is a Battle We have in Common

L’egalité est un combat commun

Translated Sunday 4 April 2010, by Alison Billington and reviewed by Bill Scoble

It’s just as it should be that the editorial is written by a woman. It is the 8th of March, and this International Day for women’s rights is our day of enlightenment. Once a year, we are sure to get ourselves talked about, but in that area more than in any other, great promises resemble fables. Didn’t Nicolas Sarkozy, in the 2007 electoral campaign, demand that ‘equal pay and professional equality between men and women be total in 2010’? Since then, each March 8th is a good occasion to repeat just how much the President of the Republic values this ‘sacred principle’ of equality. And then, the bubble bursts. Up front: Good intentions, good statistics, golden promises. Behind the scenes: a stack of rights that haven’t been enforced, texts which pile up and gather dust.

For the reality of failures to live up to promises should lead to the sounding of the alarm bell. In vain have women over the last forty years widely invested in the world of work – with a rate of activity that is constantly rising; in vain have they regained the same level of education as men; in vain do they join in the jobs that are traditionally reserved for men. They remain uncounted in the world of work. Men direct enterprises, sit on 95% of boards of directors, do 70% of companies’ duties, receive on average 25% higher salaries, occupy full-time employment when 80% of part-time jobs are imposed on women. Meanwhile, professional equailty is a ’legal obligation’ which lacks no texts to describe it. Roudy’s law of 1983, Genisson’s law of 2001, the interprofessional agreement on equality of 2004, the conference on salaries of 2007...at each stage, texts grow stronger. But they are not applied. Or only intermittently. Doubtless because the obligation to negotiate professional equality in enterprises is not accompanied by any obligation to produce results. Nor by sanctions in the event there are no results.

‘There is no natural run-up to equality’, the sociologist Margaret Maruani assures us, which favours coercive measures. But unless equality is enforced, there will be no results. For capitalism, all that that counts is profit. Now, loosening the stranglehold of inequalities of this kind calls for a completely different attitude to work, for it signifies accepting the idea of time shared between work and private life. Women are largely deprived of this choice, but they do have to pay the consequences (part-time work, job insecurity, low pay). Many men, notably young men, aspire to devote more time to their family or to personal plans. That is why equality is a battle common to both sexes. It is, in fact, a Leftist fight which counts on the emancipation of everyone. International Day for Women’s Rights celebrates its centenary. Nothing has ever been granted. Women have been conquered. A hundred years to seize the right to vote (with a new opportunity to use it next Sunday), to bring up the right to abortion (dangerously brought into question), to force talks on equality at work or on the proper way to maintain children. The 8th of March promises a multitude of initiatives. It’s certain we’ll talk about ourselves and the centrality of women’s rights, but coming out of the shadows for one day only is simply not enough.

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