Historical Course of Women Rights in France

The Women’s Rights movements in France took shape after the Great Revolution in ۱۹۸۹, and it was in ۱۷۹۱ that the Declaration of Women’s Rights was published.
22 June 2022
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Massoumeh Seif Afjei

 The Women’s Rights movements in France took shape after the Great Revolution in 1989, and it was in 1791 that the Declaration of Women’s Rights was published. For French women, rights like natural human rights, especially regarding equality with men, labor rights, equal wages and payments with men, right to vote, ownership rights, right of freedom to participate in movements, right of education and health, and the right to having security are among their most fundamental rights.  

 What has been added to the women’s rights in Europe, especially in France, in the world today and in addition to the cases enumerated above, are right of participation in political affairs, economic investment, and removing and defending against violence against women.

 As a reminder for updating women’s rights, the March 8 of each year has been named as the International Women’s Day by UNESCO.

On this day, both the French Foreign Ministry and UNESCO hold annual seminars to criticize and examine the conditions to improve women’s rights and reduce violence and existing barriers in their lives.

Despite publication of the declaration of human rights about women in France in 1789, and declaration of their equality with men, France practically after the Great revolution failed to change the conditions of women in the country as desired by women, and even the other way round, in 1804 , a  law was enacted that forced women to obey their husbands.

It was in the third republic of France that women’s conditions were to some extent improved, concerning civil rights. And during the First World War, due to absence of men in society and their presence in the war fronts, there came an opportunity for women’s strong presence in society, and in the meantime, there was emphasis on women’s employment in the economic and industrial sectors.

 Following the First World War, the French women achieved the right to vote. Thus, they, for the first time in April 1945, participated in the municipalities elections. Following up on this, in the 2nd half of the 20th century women’s demands in social areas were gradually materialized.

In the early 20th century, the subject of right to divorce and work payment equality between men and women was raised. In 1994 and in the presidency of François Mitterrand , the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage was commemorated and Ms.Simon Viel , then Social Affairs Minister, asked for fundamental reforms for improving women’s conditions. In the waning years of the 20th century, addressing equality between men and women got momentum among the parliamentarian boards and human rights groups in France.

 It was between 2004 and 2016 that fighting violence against women gained momentum and gradually laws were approved to grant right of divorce to women who were victims of domestic violence. Also, there were openings in raising women wages and improving their conditions on leave and during pregnancy.

The second bill for improving the French women’s rights was submitted between 2008  and 2010, the contents of which were entirely for supporting women’s rights against violence. This subject, as a national issue of France was continuously pursued. In the following years, more laws were approved for bettering the living conditions of women in health and hygiene during the retirement period.

 Since 2017 onwards, the grounds being focused on for human rights of women have been freedom of speech, and Judicial reforms for prevention of harms to women. In doing so, there have been considered prison sentences and fines of 30 thousand euros for those protesting women.

   The nature of attention and pursuit of women’s rights in France, while it seemed to be taking the path of development, was revealed when the corona pandemic hit in 2020 and house lockdowns were announced.

During the corona crisis and announcement of long house quarantines, France again saw a surge of domestic violence cases, to the extent that it was reported the violence had come to affect the girls between 5 and 15. In this regard, in August 2021, the Le Monde newspaper published a report uncovering 102 counts of murder of women by their husbands or exes.

 In this country, the interdepartmental unit for protecting women against violence and for combating trafficking in human beings (MIPROF) was created in 2013. The said organization annually examines the French women’s conditions and provides statistics at the end of each year. In addition, the INSEE institute annually provides such statistics. The said institute declared between 2011 and 2018 that 72% of French women were harassed and only 27% of them had gone to the police.


Although in Europe, especially in France, there is a 3 centuries history of highlighting women’s rights and removing discrimination against them and combating violence against them, but we have been each year and constantly witnessing emergence of social and rights abnormalities with regard to women.

These abnormalities show themselves in varying forms and shapes in the French society. Especially, among the minorities and immigrants. For example, after each terrorist attack occurring in the country, the government most of the time blames the immigrants, a matter that increases violent behavior against Muslim women due to anti-Islamist sentiments.

 On the other side, violence against black women does not attract the attention as it does for the Muslim women. Because the French government is afraid of the global view towards racism, but it feels free to express Islamophobia and anti-Islam statements.

 Or even with incidents like the outbreak of corona pandemic crisis,   all humanitarian statistics are disrupted, the example of which being as stated in the context, rise of women murders during the house lockdowns.

In addition to that, during the corona period, despite Mr.Macron’s statement in his first speech for declaration of the first house lockdown , he said that the centers for elderly( the majority of whose  inhabitants comprised of old women , due to their longer life spans compared to men) were prioritized , and reasoned that they were their grandmothers and grandfathers , but in practice , they easily separated the death toll from the corona in centers for the elderly from the hospital death toll , a matter which is indicative of the weaknesses of human rights claims in this country after three centuries.

Masoumeh Seif Afjehei, Director of Department for Women and Human Rights Studies

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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