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Marie-Pierre Martinet: “Equality as a vehicle for social progress across society”

Translated Friday 8 June 2012, by Helen Robertshaw and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Will gender equality improve with the return of a dedicated ministry? Marie-Pierre Martinet, secretary general of the French Movement for Family Planning, a “very demanding partner”, will be keeping an eye on the situation.

HUMA: At the start of this five-year presidential term, what is the situation regarding women’s rights? What is your assessment of the period just passed?

Marie-Pierre Martinet: We’re coming out of a period where women’s rights were considered of secondary importance. Women were simply not taken into account when drawing up public policies. We saw it with the pension reforms, which particularly affected women because they are more at risk of having career breaks. What’s more, we can’t forget Nicolas Sarkozy’s words about March 8th – International Day for Women’s Rights – when he explained that he couldn’t see the point of it and he thought it was a better idea to concentrate on more “essential” matters. It would be going a bit too far to say that rights have been pushed back, but we’ve seen attacks on these rights. For example, abortion clinics have been closed, supposedly because of a reorganisation of healthcare services. We were told they were being merged. But one closed clinic, plus another closed clinic, merged into a third one, that doesn’t make three clinics.

HUMA: Prime Minister Ayrault’s government marks the return of the Ministry for Women’s Rights. Is this a source of satisfaction for you?

Marie-Pierre Martinet: François Hollande made that pledge. We would hope that it isn’t just an empty gesture but that it really carries weight. It must be said that we’re still not up to the challenges. This is an extremely fragmented vision of the idea of equality between women and men; the approach is limited to a few themes: violence, harassment, pay in equality. It’s the tip of the iceberg, the easiest thing to deal with, even though we’re still a long way off. We’re wary of an approach that presents women as victims. We want a progressive vision: how to make equality a vehicle for social progress across the whole of society, for both men and women? And there is a major lack of interdisciplinary action. There ought to have been a much stronger assertion of the involvement of the Women’s Rights Minister alongside the Prime Minister; she ought to have been given more weight and influence over all the ministries concerned. The demand for an interdisciplinary approach to this issue deserved more than a short line at the end of the decree. We’re left with a sense of unfinished work.

HUMA: What are your hopes for this Ministry?

Marie-Pierre Martinet: It must be given the means, both financial and political, to make its presence felt. If things haven’t changed five years from now, nobody will believe in this issue anymore. François Hollande made a commitment to set up a fully operational ministry; now he has to give it the means to function. One of the roles he must play is ensuring that all public policies are evaluated from the point of view of equality before being voted. We think again of pensions, of course, but it applies to all issues: regional equality, employment, education. There is also intense work to be done to build a society that isn’t sexist in its organisation. We need to tackle the root of the problem. In that sense, education has a big role to play. In the long term, we need to dismantle sexism. We wish Najat Vallaud-Belkacem good luck: the Movement for Family Planning will be by her side, but we will be a very demanding partner. We’ve seen the effect of the disintegration of this ministry in the 1980s: we’ve had to wait thirty years for its return.

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