In France, equality between women and men is taken very seriously, by both society and the law. Though there are some lapses in its application, gender equality is an ideal toward which French society strives. How is it applied?

  • At school

All French public schools are mixed. Boys and girls of every age level go to class together, from primary school to university.

A 2013 law (“la loi de 8 juillet 2013”) made gender equality part of the French curriculum. Starting in primary school, French students are taught that boys and girls, men and women are equal. The policy aims to promote mutual respect, and to build a society without prejudice or sexist discrimination.

Sport activities at school are also mixed: boys and girls participate together.

For example: in France, swimming is a required class in primary school. It is possible to receive a waiver in some cases (usually medical), but never for religious reasons.

In January 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), fined a Swiss-Turkish couple who had refused to let their daughters participate in school activities at the pool. “The children’s interest in a full education, thus facilitating their successful social integration according to local customs and mores, prevailed over the parents’ wish to have their children exempted from mixed swimming lessons [for religious reasons],” a statement from the court said.

  • Equality in the workplace

France advocates equal pay for men and women who perform the same job. However, inequalities persist. In many sectors, women continue to be paid less than men for the same position. Women are paid an average of 9 percent less than men for the same work and the same number of hours.

In France, women can apply for any job: they are not barred from any profession.

No women needs to ask permission from her husband to work.

The French government strives to set an example at the highest level: presidents Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron each aimed to appoint a cabinet with an equal number of men and women at the beginning of their presidency.

  • Family and private life

France respects the fundamental rights of the individual. The law protects people from abuse, and takes part in the struggle against violence toward women. 

French law prohibits forced or arranged marriages. Marriage is only legal with the free, mutual consent of both parties.

Article 146 of the civil code says: “There is no marriage without consent.” Violating the law carries a heavy penalty: a 45,000-euro fine and three years in prison.

Marriage under the age of 18 is illegal thanks to a law passed in 2006 (“la loi du 4 avril 2006”). Previous to the 2006 law, the minimum age for marriage was 15, with parental consent. The law was introduced to help prevent forced marriages.

Religious marriages have no legal standing in France. This is true for all religions. Only civil marriages (in other words, marriages performed at the city hall) are recognised by the French state.

Polygamy is against the law in France. It is impossible to marry, or to obtain a civil partnership with, multiple people.


More articles