Symposium “Who can be a Representative?”

International Symposium: Who can be a Representative? Engendering Legislative Bodies: Lessons from the French Historical and Political Context

On 21 January, 2019, the Institute for of Gender Studies (IGS) at Ochanomizu University hosted an international symposium titled ‘Who can be a Representative? Engendering Legislative Bodies: Lessons from the French Historical and Political Context’. The symposium was coordinated by Delphine Gardey, Specially Appointed Professor at IGS and Professor at University of Geneva, who also gave a presentation. Eléonore Lépinard, Associate Professor at University of Lausannne, was invited as a keynote speaker. Mari Miura, Professor at Sophia University, and Ayaka Murakami, a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Post-doctoral Fellow, served as discussants, and Ki-young Shin, Associate Professor at IGS, was the moderator of an in-depth discussion on women’s participation in parliamentary politics focusing on cases in France.

The French Republic has been in a state of continuous evolution since the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. Although the main principles of the Revolution were universal human rights and equality, women had to wait a 150 years to obtain suffrage in the mid-20th century. Delphine Gardey’s presentation analysed elements that contributed to the long exclusion of women from the French Parliament. As she presented, a reflection on visual representations in the Parliament’s history demonstrates that this exclusion was sustained by the segregation of men and women as embodied in dress codes, architecture and division of labour, as well as inconsistencies in the universality principle.

Among the core principles of the French Republic, the abstract concept of the universality of individuals promises gender equality; however, it generates a paradox, as the premise of preconditional equality may justify the refusal to take actions to redress actually existing gender inequality. Men and women are equal in theory; however, from the very beginning of the French Republic, the right to participate in politics was long conferred solely upon men. Women were not allowed to enter the Parliament; they only could take seats in the spectators’ gallery, and the jobs offered to them were limited to laundry and sewing work. France finally elected its first woman representative in 1945, the first female stenographer began working inside the chamber in 1972, and the first female bailiff, who supervises ceremonies in the chamber, emerged in the early 1990s. The structure to maintain gender and class exclusion was maintained in the Parliament’s culture through reinforcing ceremonies, regulations and informal customs, among the latter of which the Parliament’s dress code is a prime example. In 2012, Cécile Duflot, then the Minister of Territorial Equality and Housing, was taunted for wearing a dress when she addressed the Parliament. Similarly, in 1897, a male representative from a working-class background was forced out of the chamber for wearing a blue coat, which symbolised the working-class, over his suit. Both cases represent the exclusive culture of the Parliament that defines men in suits as the legitimate body and marginalises other bodies.

Eléonore Lépinard’s keynote speech discussed gender quota systems. Investigating gender quotas in thirteen European countries, she examined the potential of such systems for the realisation of gender equality in the political sphere and presented an analysis on the concept of parity, which is employed to promote France’s quota system. Lépinard’s research illuminated that the operability of gender quota systems depended on the socio-political background of their respective countries, and in this regard, four classifications of the functions of gender quotas were presented. In Scandinavian countries, social equality has been highly valued and women’s participation in society and politics were advanced prior to the development of quota systems. As such, the quota systems in those countries largely serve as ‘accessory equality measures’. In France, Belgium, Slovenia and Spain, women’s participation in society is has advanced further than in politics. Those countries introduced political quota systems in a top-down manner as ‘transformative equality remedies’, and their implementation has also been extended to other sectors. More conservative countries such as Italy, Greece, Portugal and Poland have employed quota systems largely as ‘symbolic equality remedies’, and they do not appear to actively promote their systems. Germany and Austria share similar conservative tendencies and maintain the male bread-winner model, and in these cases, the imposition of political gender quotas is the prerogative of individual political parties, whereas public administration quotas are implemented in a top-down approach. These countries evince stable progression but do not intend any radical changes; in such cases, the quota systems seem to serve as ‘corrective equality remedies’. The distinctions between these cases are likely caused by differences in the degree of resistance from elite males in national institutions and the relative strength of the women’s equality movements in the respective countries.

Parité (parity) is a French policy to regulate the equalisation of gender proportions in institutions. France implemented parity to reflect the visualisation of the ‘equal existence’ of men and women; although, as asserted in Gardey’s presentation, constitutional equality is merely a formality used as the basis of arguments to reject the introduction of gender quotas for political representation. On the one hand, the concept of parity has helped to modify the abstract concept of equality to encompass a more concrete actualisation of the ‘equal existence of men and women’, a definition that has been used to rationalise gender quotas. Powerful institutions for women’s policy that directly report to the President’s office were established, and their top-down promotion measures have worked effectively. France’s gender quota systems are implemented extensively across sectors, including political representation as well as the decision-making bodies of private corporations, universities and labour and industrial unions. On the other hand, Lépinard suggested that the concept of parity had reduced equality issues to a matter of numbers; moreover, focusing on gender inequality had superseded other forms of social exclusion, such as class issues and racial discrimination. Furthermore, the true aim of parity advocates was the transformation of gender norms in France; however, the degree of this achievement will only be revealed over time.

Following the above-described two research presentations, discussants gave responsive comments. Mari Miura first discussed the situation of women’s political representation in Japan, where the Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field was recently established. Presently, the proportion of women in the House of Representatives is only ten percent, which is similar to the level of female representation in the French Parliament just prior the introduction of Parité. This suggests that the French experience over the past two decades may be indicative of what Japan can expect to see in the years ahead. With reference to the four classifications presented by Lépinard, Miura classified the new Act in Japan as a ‘symbolic equality remedy’ and identified its lack of mandatory power as a major factor that had made its establishment possible. Truly effectuating the Act will be an enormous challenge for Japanese society. Miura stated that she was inspired by the concept of parity in France and has been working to spread the concept as a principle of Japan’s democracy, as the distribution of women and men in the country’s decision-making bodies should be representative of the fifty-fifty ratio that characterises society. This logic is persuasive to many; however, a great deal of time and effort will be needed for equal political representation to be appreciated as a matter of course.

Miura explained that the exclusion of women’s ‘bodies’ from parliaments had also occurred in Japan. For example, a female member of the Kumamoto City Assembly was ejected from the chamber in 2017 when she brought her infant to a session. Currently, the Parliament has a nursery; however, there was a time when no women’s toilet was installed in the building. In contrast to France, however, the dress code of the Japanese Diet is relatively gender neutral and only requires wearing a jacket and a Diet member’s pin.

Next, discussant Ayaka Murakami raised a question concerning the image of Marianne, the female personification of the core principles of the French Republic. All French assemblies hold a figure of Marianne. Thus, on the one hand, France has maintained a culture that excludes women; on the other, they uphold the figure of a woman as a symbolic representation of the country’s identity. Murakami queried whether or not this inconsistency stimulated controversy. Murakami also proposed that Parité has produced a new form of gendered division of labour, as men and women are paired together as single candidate sets for municipal assembly seats, whereby the female half generally focuses on welfare issues during election campaigns and the male half addresses economic policies. Such a strategy may enforce the ideology of gender complementarity in the division of labour. Murakami implied that advocates of the parity concept had not intended this outcome.

The subsequent Q&A session generated further extensive discussion. Although this symposium was held on a weekday evening, a relatively large number of people from outside the university participated. The high level of community interest is indicative of the considerable public attention currently devoted to the issue of women’s participation in politics, and we are grateful to have had an opportunity to host such a meaningful symposium.

Kumi Yoshihara (Project Research Fellow, IGS)

【Event Information】