Did Women Dodge the Bullet When France Rebuffed Le Pen?

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Is Emmanuel Macron on track to become the world’s leading political voice for women?

Imagine a world where  Mr. Trump lost the U.S. presidential election, a world in which a far younger, progressive, and impactful president was on the rise. That’s the world that France is reveling in today. Emmanuel Macron, known to be the opposite of his rival Marine Le Pen, has won the French Presidential election. But what does that mean for France when it comes to issues affecting women? 

Ms. Le Pen was a candidate often and easily compared to President Trump. Her promises to restrict the hijab in public spheres, ban halal meats, and her general distrust of Islam had her running alongside Mr. Trump with his “Muslim Ban.” Ms. Le Pen’s immigration restrictions, her overconfidence on stripping away the rights of certain French residents, and statements such as: “The French sometimes have fewer rights than foreigners — even illegal ones,” worried many moderates. 

Mr. Macron, on the other hand, has more open views, especially when it comes to feminism. Despite the idea that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a left-wing candidate defeated in the primary, might have brought even more progress to France, Mr. Macron has the ability to fit this progressive mold. Could the new president bring the next wave of awareness for women’s rights to France? The first step might be that his wife is 24 years older than he is. Mr. Trump’s wife, for comparison, is actually 24 years younger. Brigitte Macron symbolizes progress to many women, who are accustomed to seeing some politicians with young trophy wives. 

Mr. Macron’s progress with women’s rights began with his decision to make half of his cabinet female. Furthermore, he has urged women to apply seek slots for elections in the National Assembly. In an interview with  En Marche!, Mr. Macron spoke about his vision for gender equality: “In a lot of cities in this country, we don’t have the proper answer for women when they have children…the burden of children, I have to say, is not fairly shared between men and women, de facto. And second, when you don’t have precisely all the infrastructures allowing you to go to work, you are forced basically to stop your career during years and years.”

However, one issue will be whether Mr. Macron will be able to identify intersectionality, the combination of various identifying characteristics including race, religion, and gender, in the French population. France has long struggled with Islamophobia, particularly when it comes to issues with Muslim women. Muslim women in France are often depicted as victims who to be saved from their families and traditions. A prime example is the burkini ban controversy in which Muslim women were arrested for wearing full-body swimsuits. Mr. Macron’s strides with women’s issues must expand itself by reaching out to all women regardless of religious affiliation and ensuring that Muslim women can freely practice their faith. 

It is not difficult to see how Mr. Macron differs from previous French politicians in his commitment to women’s rights. If he can combine this effort with combating prejudice against certain minority communities, France may be on a path to genuine progress that has the power to inspire positive change for women and minority women around the world. 

Priyanka Bansal is a student at Rutgers University. 

Priyanka Bansal is a student at Rutgers University. She has contributed previously to The Tab, and she enjoys writing about politics and culture, especially as they pertain to issues of particular importance to women.

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