Bloomberg News

Sarkozy Fails on Promise to French Women as Lagarde Leaves

June 30, 2011

(Adds Baroin’s age in second paragraph.)

June 30 (Bloomberg) -- Christine Lagarde’s exit from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet of ministers reduces the proportion of women in his government to 29 percent, far short of the gender parity he pledged during his election campaign.

Lagarde, 55, who was this week named the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund, was replaced yesterday as French Finance Minister by Francois Baroin, 46. Lagarde is taking over at the IMF from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who quit after his arrest last month on charges including attempted rape.

Sarkozy promised in the run up to the 2007 vote that at least half his ministerial posts would be held by women. With the proportion of women now five percentage points lower than before, he will be hard pressed to defend his record on gender equality as he heads toward the 2012 presidential race. His new team cuts the number of women ministers to six out of 24 and female junior ministers to four out of 10. It also leaves no administrative office in France with a female chief.

“The gender gap shows a cultural gap,” said Bruno Cautres, a political analyst at Cevipof, a Paris-based political research center. “France is struggling to catch up with the mentality change in other European countries. Sarkozy had it all in the beginning, women, minorities and women from minorities in minister jobs. The government now reflects how the French mentality has changed, which is very little.”

Lagarde is the latest and also the most senior female minister to leave Sarkozy’s cabinet. Right after he took office, women controlled the most important ministries, from finance and defense to justice and health. That’s no longer the case.

Bigger Role

In an index in the World Economic Forum’s October Gender Gap Report, France fell 28 places in one year to number 46 behind Namibia, Mozambique and Kazakhstan.

A rise in the index would require a “higher number of women in leading roles in the current administration and improvements in the wage gap,” the report said. Iceland, Norway and Finland lead the index, the U.K. ranks 15 and the U.S. 19.

“During 2008-09, following President Sarkozy’s entry into government, there was a highly publicized rise in the number of women holding ministerial positions,” the WEF report said, witnessing a “considerable change in proportion” last year.

All major female figures of Sarkozy’s team are gone. Rama Yade, a minister of Senegalese origin who held first the human rights and then the Sports portfolios, was ousted in November. Rachida Dati, the former justice minister who is of Arab descent, left in 2009 and Fadela Amara, the junior minister for urban affairs, was fired in 2010. Even the powerful political figure from the governing party, Michele Alliot-Marie, who held the defense, interior, justice and then the foreign affairs ministries, was pushed out in February.

‘Less Testoterone’

“It’s a pity there no longer is a woman in one of the main ministries, interior, justice, defense or economy,” said Chantal Brunel, a lawmaker from Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement party. “In terms of gender equality, this cabinet shuffle makes no progress; rather it’s a slight step backward.”

Shortly before her IMF appointment was made public, Lagarde said she would like to see a woman take over her finance minister job.

“Of course I’d like to see a woman in my job, I am for more women! But it’s the president who decides,” she told Bloomberg News on the side of a presidential press conference on June 27 in Paris. On ABC News in October, Lagarde famously said that women “inject less testosterone in the equation.”

Sarkozy’s gender record took another hit when this month he replaced Anne Lauvergeon, the chief executive officer of the state-controlled nuclear reactor builder Areva SA, with her deputy Luc Oursel.

Missed Opportunity

Not one of the companies that make up the country’s benchmark CAC 40 stock index has a female CEO. That puts France behind the U.K., with a February report by the Cranfield University School of Management showing that five women hold CEO positions among the FTSE 100 companies.

Granted, Sarkozy’s record is no worse than that of his predecessor Jacques Chirac. Former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s government was the last with women comprising more than 30 percent. France’s most senior woman politician was Edith Cresson, who was premier for less than a year from 1991 to 1992.

“You can’t judge the government’s record at this one moment,” said Sarkozy’s spokesman, Franck Louvrier. “On the whole, the government has done a lot for women. Never have women been given so much responsibility. Gender parity is difficult to measure. What matters is giving women responsibility.”

Little to Show

Most high-profile jobs in state-held or government- controlled companies have gone to men since 2007. Only the head of Arte public television is a woman. Two out of Sarkozy’s 15 closest aides at the Elysee presidential palace are women, and only nine women work in the 51-strong presidential cabinet.

Politicians of Sarkozy’s UMP party, including lawmaker Francoise Guegot, handed him a report on March 7 demanding that the state impose a minimum of 40 percent of females for top administration jobs by 2015 and in 2017 for ministers, prefects, rectors and ambassadors.

While 51.7 percent of French civil servants are women, only 20.3 percent of them hold managerial positions, Guegot said, with 10 percent of prefects and 11 percent of ambassadors. France’s lower chamber of Parliament has 19.6 percent of women and the Senate 23.5 percent, putting France at the 19th level in European ranking and 58th worldwide.

As Sarkozy starts informally campaigning for the 2012 presidential elections, he may lay out his record on the economic, educational, industrial and international fronts. He will have less to say about his gender-equality achievements.

“When the time comes to show what he has done for women, Sarkozy will have little to say,” Cautres said. “He has missed a great opportunity for himself but also to modernize the elites of the country.”

--Editors: Vidya Root, Steve Rhinds

To contact the reporter on this story: Helene Fouquet in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at

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