Yesterday, the French government announced the adoption of a charter aimed at helping France reach true gender equality in higher education.
The “Charter for Equality” (link goes to PDF) was put together by the Conference of University Presidents (CPU), the Conference of Grandes Ecoles (CGE), and the Conference of the Directors of French Engineering Schools (CDEFI), which together represent 300 universities and other higher education institutions in France. The charter is articulated around the wish to include gender-issues considerations at all levels within institutions; keep track of gender statistics; raise awareness of gender equality issues among staff and students; prevent all forms of gender violence; and use “non-sexist, non-discriminatory, non-stereotyped” language in institutional communication.
In fact, there are two sub-charters: one endorsed by the CPU and CDEFI, and another by the CGE. The CPU and CDEFI both recommend their member institutions put in place new measures to encourage better gender balance in student enrollment in all disciplines; ensure that students (both male and female) are not put at a disadvantage for having family obligations; inform students of their rights regarding sexual violence and harassment; and help them access dedicated support. Regarding staff, the CPU and CDEFI charter recommends favoring proportional gender representation at all levels of governance; better informing staff of their rights to maternity and paternity leaves and flexible working arrangements; and taking into account the impact of maternity on the careers of female teaching and research staff.
The second, CGE charter doesn’t seem to explicitly mention gender equality among its staff (aside from recommending that a regular analysis of gender statistics, which includes staff, be carried out), but it recommends that female students be offered coaching to better prepare them for careers in industry and makes raising awareness of gender issues among students compulsory.
The charter itself is a non-binding document, meaning that the three conferences are largely “inviting” their member institutions to put the proposed principles into practice. But the charter, which was signed together with the Ministry of Women’s Rights and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, is part of a broader governmental strategy for gender equality. Yesterday, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research also presented a strategy with a battery of measures targeted at strengthening current gender initiatives or launching new ones that are all very much in line with the charter. In fact, one of the ministry’s 42 measures will be efforts to systematically discuss the individual institutions’ strategy for gender equality so that it is included in the contractual agreements that are periodically signed between the ministry and the institutions. “This measure allows not only to engage the institutions in the implementation of a global policy for women-men equality but also to ensure the follow-up and evaluation of the commitments that were made,” the ministry writes in its action plan. Both the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the Ministry of Women Rights are to offer institutions human resources and financial help to implement the charter.
Also among these measures is a plan to encourage more women to pursue scientific and technical studies; promote better gender representation in selection committees as well as training recruitment and promotion committees in gender equality; and fund more gender studies to inform policy. Another important move in the ministry’s action plan is to make gender equality mandatory in the lists of candidates for university governance positions as part of a new, broader science and education law that is currently in the making.
According to ministry figures, in 2011 women represented 57.6% of all bachelor’s degree and master’s degree students in French universities, versus 48% of Ph.D. students, 42.4% of permanent lecturers, 22.5% of university professors, and 14.8% of university presidents. “While the proportion of women permanent lecturers and the proportion of women university professors have each progressed by about 10 points between 1992 and 2012, women continue to be in a large minority among professors,” the ministry stated. “If the average rate of progress remains unchanged, the body of permanent lecturers will reach equal representation in 2027 and the body of university professors will reach equal representation in 2068.”