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International Development Barometer n°7

Published 9 July 2020 in Surveys

French views on gender equality in the run-up to the Generation Equality Forum

As part of the Generation Equality Voices festival organised by UN Women France between May and July 2020, and in the run-up to the Generation Equality Forum, the biggest international conference on equality in the last 25 years, our 7th International Development Barometer, “French views on gender equality in the run-up to the Generation Equality Forum” is now available to download here.

This edition of our Barometer is based on polling data from survey institute YouGov, conducted on-line between 5-13 February 2020 with a representative sample of 2003 adults in France. The survey and its analysis were carried out in the framework of Focus 2030’s participation in the Development Engagement Lab (DEL) project run by our partners UCL (London) and Birmingham University.

In contrast to a number of societal issues which cause heated discussion, it seems from this edition of our Barometer that French people can agree on gender equality, regardless of their generation, level of education, or political preference. Gender inequality may still be pervasive today, but all of a sudden, it would seem that French society has undergone an electroshock leading to a Copernican revolution in concern for, and reactions to, equality between women and men.
Through this portrait of views on gender equality, both in France and more broadly, we dug deeper into the differences that seemed to emerge between women’s and men’s answers to the same question, investigating and highlighting how gender stereotypes persist even in societies where the majority of people appear ready and willing for change.

Main findings

  • Unsurprisingly - and systematically - women have a greater awareness of the importance of gender equality and its promotion. Even if both men and women agree on the essentials, there is a clear difference in emphasis.
  • A large majority of men appear to be aware of inequality and the need for change. Men seem generally supportive of that change.
  • The consequences of gender inequality are spontaneously identified by women and men in terms of violence (physical and mental), economic inequality (the gender pay gap), or professional inequality (access to management positions). Enforcing parity appears as an immediate and obvious solution.
  • The usual sociodemographic factors seem less influential than for other development issues.
  • Differences in opinion do emerge according to the stage in respondents’ careers (entry-point professionals compared to those who are retired) or their generation (millennials vs. the generation of the 1968 student protests in France).
  • Surprisingly, older respondents are sometimes more aware about gender equality than middle-aged respondents.
  • Left-wing voters show a slightly greater awareness on gender equality (as for other social issues).
  • For French people, it is acknowledged - or even assumed - that promoting gender equality should be a central rather than peripheral part of development policies in order to tackle poverty sustainably.

Getting better as time goes on?

52% of French people think gender equality has improved in the last 25 years. Respondents see the same level of progression on gender equality in France as for the rest of the world.

It is obvious that respondents do not have detailed knowledge about gender equality everywhere else in the world. That said, the answers seem to point to a shared optimism generated by a global movement in favour of gender equality, boosted by the power of the internet, dissolving geography and distance.

These answers paint a general picture, rather than capturing objective knowledge: one that it must be ‘obvious’ that progress has been made in recent decades, just like progress has been made on other societal issues over time. Upon closer inspection, however, we find that men have a much higher perception of progress on gender equality in the last 25 years (62%) than women (42%).

Structural causes for gender inequality

According to French people, these are the four main reasons why women are still not considered as equal to men.

Culture, history and male opposition to change are the primary reasons French people give to explain gender inequality in developing countries, as well as the difficulty for women in accessing education. The influence of religion and lack of laws to implement or protect gender equality were also seen as key reasons for gender inequality in developing countries.

Women’s under-representation or participation in politics (the 5th most popular answer) was considered an obstacle both in France, and in developing countries.

Recognition of a vicious, or virtuous circle: the links between global poverty and gender equality

For 45% of French people, there is no way to end global poverty without first fixing gender inequality.

Global poverty is frequently projected in terms of issues such as hunger, education, health and economic prosperity. We would be forgiven for assuming that gender equality might not be considered a major precondition for ending the devastation of underdevelopment.

This figure (45%) shows however that gender equality is very much seen as a virtuous circle for the organisation of our societies, just as it is portrayed in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Gender equality is not viewed, therefore, as some far-off ideological battle on progressive values without any practical benefit, but instead as a practical process, necessary to achieve results.

61% of French people believe that gender equality should be a priority for French development aid.

There is a slightly lower level of support from right-wing voters (58%) for making gender equality a priority for French aid, whereas centre-voters, with 68%, appear to think similarly to left-wing voters (69%).
We can note also that the older the respondent, the more convinced they are of the importance of making gender equality a primary objective of development funding.

Two main solutions: tackling violence against women AND promoting equal pay

All respondents agree that tackling violence against women and achieving equal pay are the two top responses to the question of how to achieve gender equality on a global scale.

Even if there is some variation between female and male responses to the question, all respondents agree with this analysis of the two major issues to tackle. It is as if gender equality was above all a political rather than an individual issue, requiring a national solution and resolution through the reorganisation of society.

The Generation Equality Forum: an opportunity for France to do more

59% of French people think France should commit to giving more money to women’s rights in developing countries.

Widespread support for a feminist diplomacy

61% of French people – and 68% of French women - support the idea of a ‘feminist diplomacy’.

Only 8% of French people disagree with the idea of a ‘feminist diplomacy’. Such overwhelming support gives a clear mandate to further develop this new approach.

Linking the word ‘diplomacy’ to ‘feminist’ does not seem to stir debate, and in a separate question, 47% of French people say they would not describe themselves as feminist. This is possibly because it is an adjective which also describes a movement with which many French people apparently prefer not to be associated.

The question of the gender pay gap in France

64% of French people are aware that women are paid less than men for the same work.

The fact that women earn less than men for the same work - the ‘gender pay gap’ - is familiar news to most French people, echoing 2019 national statistics from INSEE which confirm that on average, women earn 23% lower than men in France.

However, those under 25 are less likely to recognise the gender pay gap in France. Perhaps this is because young people are thinking in terms of the situation for their own generation, the first for which a gender pay gap is less pronounced.

The benefits of parity in decision-making bodies

61% of French people think imposing parity in decision-making bodies would help improve gender equality in France.

Given their exclusion from decision-making structures, a majority of women seem to think that only enforced parity will speed up the agonisingly slow progress toward equal participation in the different decision-making positions – major or minor – which make up French society. In other words, our views and actions are determined by our own self-interest, and influence our behaviour and interests.

Parity may not be universally popular with everyone (e.g. intermediate age groups, men, and people with the highest levels of education) but it would appear that this form of positive discrimination generates little opposition; indeed, that it seems to offer a promising approach for improving gender equality in France.

Experiences which speak for themselves

Gender inequality: a (gendered) real-life experience.

  • 50% of women say they have been paid less at some point in their lives simply because they are a woman, which is +36% higher than for men.
  • 35% of women say they have also been hindered in their professional life because of their gender, compared to 19% of men.
  • 48% of women say they are frequently interrupted by men during meetings or discussions, which is double the percentage for men.
  • 68% of women consider that (because they are a woman) they have had to spend a lot of time on housework, compared to only 19% for men.
  • 10% of women say they have been victims (often or occasionally) of sexual assault.
  • 44% of women say they have been victims of sexist insults or comments.
  • 21% of women say they have been victims of harassment.

A change in mindset for men

49% of French men say they now pay more attention to women’s rights.

This confession of greater awareness of women’s rights is more frequent from men under 25 (+6%), with post-graduate qualifications (+6%) and left-wing voters (+11%).

In this survey (conducted anonymously and on-line) 16% of men felt they could admit that they had not always behaved well towards women. It is an avowal which again should be seen in the context of re-emergence of feminist movements, who have used the public space to clearly define what is and isn’t acceptable, as well as the consequences of transgressing those boundaries. Indeed, men find themselves faced with a new standard of politically correct which has been embedded into public opinion. Some men realise that some of the things they used to say or do in the past, which perhaps they did not even think twice about at the time, would now be considered unacceptable.

Further reading

Sondage Les Français·es et l’égalité femmes-hommes en 10 infographies Vidéo : Sondage Focus 2030 Forum Génération Égalité

Documents to download

Sondage Les Français·es et l’égalité femmes-hommes en 10 infographies Vidéo : Sondage Focus 2030 Forum Génération Égalité International development barometer n°7 - French views on gender equality in the run-up to the Generation Equality Forum