Gender equality battle is "far from over", says Minister

International Women’s Day – Speech by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development (excerpts)

Paris, 8 March 2016


Of course, 8 March is a major international day of mobilization; it’s also a day of media exposure, that’s true, but it’s a cause that must galvanize all players, everyone who can get things moving every day. I said in Geneva a few days ago that when you look at the global scale of the battle for equality, for the right women have to own their bodies, the battle against discrimination of all kinds, against stereotypes too, against the violence carried out on women and sexist domination, you can see this battle is far from over. I’d even say that on the contrary, as I said on 29 February, there’s a tendency towards a regression, at any rate in certain countries. We must make constant efforts and fight every step of the way, in the conviction that to attack women’s rights – those universal rights gained at such a high price – is to attack us all. As you recalled, Mme Rispal, I’ve expressed this conviction both in my previous position as head of the government and in all my engagements. It isn’t about being self-satisfied, it’s simply about remaining vigilant and mobilized. Now that I’m in charge of French diplomacy, I’d like it to make women’s rights more of a priority and a principle for action than ever, not only in words but also in deeds.

We must continue sending these messages at every level, in the multilateral organizations and in all our bilateral relations, even though this dialogue is sometimes difficult. That, of course, is the job which I, as Foreign Minister and head of French diplomacy, intend to do.

But as far as we’re concerned, within this ministry, it’s also about being exemplary – at any rate, being vigilant and mobilized.

I’ve been made aware of the annual road map the Ministry draws up, under your responsibility, Mme Rispal – your title is Executive Member of the High Council for Gender Equality – and you also told me about it during the French President’s visit to Buenos Aires, saying how motivated you are by the mission. I’m delighted to know that the road map earned the congratulations – or rather the encouragements – of the interministerial committee for women’s rights and gender equality, a committee which, incidentally, I helped set up in 2012.

This is clearly the result of a proactive policy at the Ministry. I attach the greatest importance to it, and I’d like to draw your attention to three goals.

First of all, to increase the number of women who can be recruited to senior management positions.

Everyone must be aware that there’s progress to be made and that it’s necessary in order to improve the quality of jobs. It can’t be done without this daily improvement. This means thinking about genuine diversity, and it’s a challenge we mustn’t underestimate. It’s a central challenge, and I hope we’re spearheading that battle.

So we must continue to increase the number of women who can be appointed to positions of responsibility. In addition to equal pay, it must also be possible for career paths to be equal. I note, and welcome, the fact that there are currently 48 women ambassadors, admittedly out of a total of 202 posts – i.e. 24% of the total number of ambassadors to countries and for particular issues. That’s not many seen from outside, but it’s a progression if you look at the distance travelled, given that the Ministry had only 42 women ambassadors in 2015, 34 in 2014 and only 22 in 2010. This momentum must continue.

Today we have nearly 30% of women fast-tracked into management and decision-making jobs. If you look at what the situation is elsewhere, that’s a good result. But it’s nevertheless not enough.

We must continue our efforts to achieve the goals of the Sauvadet Act (1). In order to do this, it’s essential to increase the number of women who can occupy positions of responsibility. The share of women in the pool of staff who can be promoted to these kinds of positions is actually still too small. So it’s important to continue our proactive efforts, such as to promote a higher or equal share of women with equal skills, and I know this isn’t always easy, because some men may find it unfair. But we have to be clear: if we want to get things to change, we need this proactive approach which I take on board.

Secondly, it seems to me essential – crucial – to encourage a better work-life balance.

Since taking office I’ve been discovering every day, through contact with you, the great demands of the diplomat’s profession. For all that, it must be possible to reconcile these demands with respect for everyone, and the fulfilment of everyone, in their private lives. This means a change in working methods, but also in habits and behaviours. There’s a sort of routine too: we adopted a [Foreign Ministry working] time charter in May 2015. It was an important point that your discussions especially focused on last year, because you’re partly behind it.

But a charter isn’t enough in itself. I know our ministry must be able to face up to crisis situations at every moment, which demands great availability, and from that point of view this ministry is exemplary and must be commended. But not every time is a time of crisis. So every department must work at a certain pace, while being able to adapt to emergencies. I’m calling for an effort on working hours, so that staff working hours are brought under control. It’s not right for 12-hour days sometimes to be a habit, a routine as I was saying a few moments ago.

To address this challenge, it’s up to each of you, both men and women and particularly the hierarchy, to set an example and ensure the charter is implemented in practice. We can also be more flexible, making use of our new tools, such as secure computers and mobile phones, although we mustn’t be their slaves, because we must be careful not to misuse this new technology but to know how to use it intelligently. Indeed, I think we can trust individual and collective intelligence. I’d also like the Administration and Modernization Director-General to explore the teleworking route, particularly in the framework of implementing the decree of 11 February 2016 on the rollout of teleworking in the civil service.

Finally, my third goal is to support staff and their families as well as possible.

The “families delegation”, whose creation was also largely inspired by your work, will be operational this year. It will enable us to respond better to staff’s expectations and practical questions. I’m delighted by this, and I’m also relying on your discussions to feed into consideration of the delegation’s purpose, role and operation. You must take full ownership of the delegation, under the authority of the Human Resources Director.

Measures to support husbands and wives are also a major priority. In the eyes of many of you, diplomacy is undoubtedly the world’s finest profession – and who could fail to understand you? Indeed, it’s a very lofty mission for France, with the entirely legitimate pride you can have in your profession. But don’t your spouses therefore also have to “marry the career” – an expression from another era –, agreeing to sacrifice theirs to your postings?

It’s a really difficult issue, it’s an issue of our times, our era. It arises not only for you but also for service personnel, for example, and it’s an issue that must be dealt with, that must really be tackled. Here too, significant progress has been made, particularly under your impetus, Secretary-General, and thanks to the active role of the Director for French Nationals Abroad and our posts. This progress must be continued. I’m thinking in particular of the number of countries where diplomats’ spouses can engage in professional activity: 60 countries today, with the target being 90 countries by 2017, so we’re making headway. I’m also thinking of the partnerships established with the private sector aimed at encouraging spouses’ employment, and we must develop these even further. So there are opportunities for progression. (…)./.

(1) Law introduced in 2012 which, among other provisions, placed on all public bodies an obligation to establish a balanced representation of women and men on their boards.

Published on 05/07/2016

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