Women Make Gains in French Parliament, But Minorities Struggle

Women hold a record number of seats in the new French parliament, including the first ever black female deputy elected on the mainland, but legislative elections Sunday failed to radically shift the balance in a chamber still dominated by white men. Political parties on the left and right were under pressure to boost the share of women and black and Arab lawmakers in the National Assembly. They can claim a partial success: 107 of the assembly’s 577 seats went to women candidates, a jump of 31 deputies compared to the outgoing chamber. With 18.5 percent of seats now held by women, France lifts its country ranking in terms of women’s representation in parliament from an embarrassing 86th to 58th spot, in between Venezuela and Nicaragua. Coming after Segolene Royal’s failed bid to become France’s first woman president, the result — which ushers in 61 women lawmakers on the left and 46 on the right — was greeted as a step in the right direction. It also follows the appointment by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France’s first government with gender parity, with seven of 15 cabinet posts held by women, a balance expected to remain following this week’s government reshuffle. But Le Monde newspaper said the improved number of women in parliament — lifting France just above the European average of 17.7 percent — was in itself “nothing to be proud of.” France sought to boost the number of women in parliament with a 2000 law obliging parties to field an equal number of men and women candidates, but it has only been partly followed despite heavy fines for offending parties.