By Elise Lauriot Prevost, a second year Undergraduate studying International Relations at King’s College London.
Women’s rights have not been central in the French elections, as they are not in most elections. They never seem to be a priority even though women statistically represent 50% of the electorate. However, there is a chance that in two weeks a woman may become President. This woman is Marine Le Pen. Her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, a man, has pledged to do more about women’s rights than Le Pen. This is easily explained by looking at the party she represents, the Front National. Nonetheless, what is concerning is not only that woman’s rights are so absent from her program but more so how she frames her ‘slight’ concern.
A quick comparison of the two candidates programs on women’s rights shows us that:
- Emmanuel Macron wants there to be parity in the candidates running for the legislative elections and in the directors of state agencies.
- Marine Le Pen does not mention this.
- When it comes to equal pay Macron would like to ‘name and shame’ companies that do not pay men and women the same and enforce by conducting regular checks.
- Marine Le Pen does mention equal pay and does not give any concrete measures on how she would achieve this. Still she is against positive discrimination.
- When it comes to women’s rights Emmanuel Macron would be stricter on ‘small infractions’ such as cat calling and other ‘antisocial behavior against women’ by imposing “on the spot” fines.
- Marine Le Pen wants to defend women’s rights by fighting against Islamism which, for her, is the biggest threat against women’s fundamental rights. 
It is on this last point that I would like to focus on. This idea of Islamism and a repression of women rights has its roots in the colonization of North Africa by the French. The French quickly developed an obsession with veiling and unveiling woman which is obviously still the case with the recent ‘burkini’ scandal. Additionally, the 2005 ‘Loi contre les signes religieux ostensibles’ was passed as a matter of ‘laicité’ but would never have made it through had it not been for the campaign by French feminists that headscarves are just a sign of a Muslim woman’s oppression. Many authors have justifiably argued against this. This removes a Muslims woman agency and her right to choose for herself. The headscarf also has a long history of being used as a form of rebellion against colonial authorities. Obviously, the headscarf does not equal fundamental Islam but for Marine Le Pen it seems to. By reducing Muslim women to their headscarves it completely removes their agency.
On top of this discourse with colonial and purely racist undertones there is another problem with what she is saying. As a French woman, I personally have never felt that Islamism was the biggest threat to my rights. Far from it. I feel that my reproductive rights are more threatened by the ‘family’ lobby (La Manif Pour Tous) in France which is mostly Catholic. I personally have been more put down, belittled and on the receiving end of lurid comments by white ‘French’ men than by the people Marine Le Pen blames, ‘immigrants’. Obviously, I am generalizing here but my biggest concerns are everyday cat calling, being belittled by male peers and most importantly the fact that I still have to work twice as hard to get a job, an interview or even just to be taken seriously because I am a woman. And this has absolutely nothing to do with Islamism. What shocks me the most is that Marine Le Pen is arguably the most powerful woman in France today and to get there it must not have been easy.
I dislike her with every fiber of my being and would never excuse anything she says but, woman to woman, I am certain that she has felt the same sexual discrimination that I have. She has had to work twice as hard to get where she is, she has had to answer questions which a man never gets asked such as why have you put your career in front of your family? etc. I do not agree with her ideas but I am sure that she has been victim to as much and even more sexual harassment because of her prominent position. I am sure that people questioned her taking over from her father on the basis that she was a woman. With all this said I still struggle to understand why she does not take women’s rights more seriously. I am sure that she has had her rights questioned by way more non Islamic fundamentalists than Islamic fundamentalists. Women’s rights may not appeal to all her voters but she has tried to soften her image and distance herself from her father and party. How can a woman who has definitely experienced sexual harassment reduce it to Islamic Fundamentalism. You can be blinded by your ideas but work place harassment, belittlement is an everyday reality for woman and for her too. How can you vote for someone who is so blinded by their racist and extremist ideology that they do not even take into account what affects them on a daily basis?
 Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “Gender and Secularism of Modernity: How Can a Muslim Woman Be French?” Feminist Studies 32, no. 2 (2006): 239.