After years of condescension by sophisticated Francophiles for our country’s paucity of maternity/child care benefits, comes the report that French women are 46th in the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Gender Equality Report, behind most of Europe, the U.S. (19), Kazakhstan, Uganda, Namibia and Guyana. So while French bebes and pre-schoolers may be getting government day care, 82% of their mamas work and perform twice as many domestic chores as their husbands in order to keep their careers and families afloat. The prototype in the Times article of Oct 12th is a 31 year old doctor with four children and a husband for whom she shops and cooks in addition to her full time medical job. She is in charge of taking the kids to school and day care each day by Metro. (ou est papa?) The accompanying picture shows her wearing strappy high heeled sandals, carrying an infant in one arm, holding a toddler’s hand in the other and crossing a wide intersection behind two very young children who are crossing by themselves, way ahead of their mother’s reach and disconnected from each other. More than anything else, this photo looks like an illustration for how to be a reckless mother or what not to wear when navigating traffic with four little kids.
According to the article, more women than men graduate from French medical schools but all the important hospital jobs go to men. The same appears to be true in other fields such as engineering and government. And though it’s lamentable that such inequality exists in a culture which glorifies women through fashion, perfume, art and cuisine, it’s also fun to revel in schadenfreude and see pompous claims of superiority deflated. At least I thought so until I looked more closely at all the rankings tabulated by the World Economic Forum and began to wonder by what mathematical formula they could conclude that Kazakhstan and Krygyzstan are more hospitable to women than Israel (52), a country in which women serve in the army, occupy important government positions and boast of Golda Meir, prime minister from 1969 - 1974. What complicated equations allowed Botswana and Malawi to best Italy (74)? How does Japan (94), a country with a 99% literacy rate, rank only slightly higher than such models of feminist opportunity as Azerbijan and Senegal? More interesting than the list itself would be the working charts that produced such counter-intuitive results.
Of interest, among those at the bottom of the list, there are 22 entirely or significantly Moslem countries, most of which have gotten worse for women in the last four years. This is worth pondering as increasingly, Moslem women living in secular countries like France insist on their right to wear hijabs and burqas and to resist assimilation into a western lifestyle. France is the European country with the largest Moslem population and its ranking dropped from 15 in 2008 to 46 just two years later. Is there a correlation between these facts and if so, if this a portentous warning for women’s rights throughout the west?
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