New Women MPs in French National Assembly

Women outside Quebec National Assembly - Paul VanDerWerf on Flickr - CC BY SA 2.0
Women outside Quebec National Assembly – Paul VanDerWerf on Flickr – CC BY SA 2.0

The parliamentary election in France in June 2022 radically altered the balance of power in French politics. But how did it alter the power of women MPs? This article looks at five of them.

Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble coalition is now down to 245 seats and so loses its absolute majority, making it much harder for the newly re-elected president to push his reforms through. Right of centre, Les Républicains, down to 64 seats, lose their place as the main opposition group (just as, in the presidential election in April, their candidate Valérie Pécresse performed so badly that she lost her deposit). The ‘winners’ are to be found at opposite ends. On the left, NUPES (nouvelle union populaire écologique et sociale), a loose coalition including Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s hard left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) as well as ecologists and other socialist parties, wins 131 seats. At the extreme right, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) returns 89 MPs, its largest number by far, and becomes a force to be reckoned with at parliamentary level.

Proportion of Women MPs

With so many new faces in the Palais-Bourbon (the meeting place of the national assembly), it is disappointing that the proportion of women MPs should be slightly down on the previous intake (37.3% instead of 39.5%). Progress towards men-women parity in parliament has been steady but relatively slow in France, leaving it in eighth place among EU countries and way behind countries such as Rwanda, Cuba, Bolivia or even the United Arab Emirates (but ahead of the UK, which stands at 34%).

Might fresh ideas, however, make up for fairly low numbers? Here is a profile of five of these women MPs, all newly elected.

Charlotte Leduc (NUPES): back to the future

24 juin 2022 : Mme Charlotte Leduc, députée de la 3e circonscription de Moselle (57). Trombinoscope de la XVIe législature Portrait HD
copyright Assemblée nationale-2022

“I have no other ambition but to improve people’s lives” said Charlotte Leduc, 41, on being elected to represent a Moselle constituency (in eastern France) for Nupes. Growing up in a left-leaning family, Leduc had been politically active for a long time but had only recently joined La France Insoumise. In 2015, she became president of the local branch of Attac, the movement that criticises neoliberal ideology and challenges a globalisation model that favours profits over people. The G7 of environment ministers in Metz in 2019 was the making of her. The ‘alternative G7’ coordinated by Attac was a vocal but peaceful affair and Leduc started being noticed in left-wing circles.

Her professional profile, on the other hand, is unusual. She works as an archeo-zoologist, specialising in animals of the mesolithic period. However, she emphasises her growing concern for environmental and social emergencies and says “I had been working too much on the past and I felt the urge to start tackling the future”.

Her success is all the more remarkable in that Moselle constituency had been solidly right of centre for a long time and NUPES had no actual hope of her winning it. However, helped by division among candidates on the right, she made it to the second round and beat her Rassemblement National opponent with 51.5% of the votes.

Rachel Kéké (NUPES): the sometimes unguarded ‘voice of the voiceless’

24 juin 2022 : Mme Rachel Keke, députée de la 7e circonscription du Val-de-Marne (94) Trombinoscope de la XVIe législature Portrait HD
copyright Assemblée nationale-2022

For such a political novice, Rachel Kéké, a 48-year-old mother of five originally from the Ivory Coast, has already achieved a high media profile. Her ambition, she says tongue in cheek, is to “clean up the national assembly”, and she knows what she is talking about. She made a name for herself as the chambermaid who took on the management of the Ibis hotel where she worked and led a 22-month long strike, eventually winning better pay and conditions. Kéké then joined La France Insoumise and with 50.3% of the votes, narrowly beat Roxana Maracineanu, a former Macron minister, no less, in a Val-de-Marne constituency. Her ‘manifesto’ is worth quoting at length:

“I am the voice of the voiceless, I am a chambermaid, a cleaner, I am a security guard, a home help, a carer, I am all those invisible jobs. At the national assembly, those jobs will be visible”.

She and her deputy, Marie Leclerc-Bruant, see her promotion as the best way to counter the extreme right, by showing disaffected youths from ethnic minorities in inner cities, often demonised by the Rassemblement National, that they too have their place in French society and that there should be no limits to their aspirations.

Kéké’s image was somewhat dented, though, when historic social media posts emerged soon after the election, showing her liking or sharing a range of racist and homophobic messages. In typical combative mode, she insists that she has moved on and that she is now completetly aligned with the values of the left.

Sabrina Agresti-Roubache (Ensemble): a Macron faithful

24 juin 2022 : Mme Sabrina Agresti-Roubache, députée de la 1e circonscription des Bouches-du-Rhône (13). Trombinoscope de la XVIe législature Portrait HD
copyright Assemblée nationale-2022

Sabrina Agresti-Roubache is totally at home in Marseille, where she was born 46 years ago, in a working-class family of Algerian descent in a largely Arab neighbourhood. Hers is an impressive story of rapid social and political ascension. She did well at school, studied law then embarked on a varied career as an audio-visual producer, involved with projects such as the Netflix series Marseille. She also worked with Éric Cantona to promote beach soccer, including inside the infamous Baumettes prison in Marseille. In 2021, she married Jean-Philippe Agresti, a high-flying academic at Aix-Marseille University.

Her meeting with Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron in 2016 and the personal friendship that ensued marked the start of her political career. When he chose her to stand as the Ensemble candidate for a constituency in Marseille-East, it was more a case of testing her mettle in a challenging environment than offering a safe seat to a mate. The result was a close call but she managed to see off her Rassemblement National rival with 50.79% of the votes.

Apart from being a Macron unconditional, there are a few pointers to what Agresti-Roubache stands for, politically. She was elected in 2021 as a regional councillor with a special mandate to tackle violence against women and bullying at school. She is now calling for the Macron government to lean slightly to the left because of the grievances she came across while on the campaign trail, grievances about inequalities and discriminations. She certainly has the president’s ear.

Gisèle Lelouis (Rassemblement National): candidate by default, MP by chance?

22 juin 2022 : Mme GisŠle Lelouis, députée de la 3e circonscription des Bouches-du-Rh“ne (13) Trombinoscope de la XVIe l‚gislature Portrait HD
copyright Assemblée nationale-2022

Gisèle Lelouis, also elected in one of the Marseille constituencies, offers a stark contrast to Leduc, Kéké or Agresti-Roubache but also to most MPs past or present. She really appears to have fallen into the job almost by chance. Lelouis, 70, is a long-standing supporter of the Rassemblement National, from the time when it was still called the Front National, and she became a member in 2009. In 2014, she was elected to one of several town councils in Marseille. While active and well known on her beat, she practically never opened her mouth during council meetings.

Two things happened to propel her to the fore. First, the local party imploded, with several of its chiefs joining the ultra right-wing and (even more) racist Éric Zemmour’s Reconquête party instead. Talent was thin on the ground as a result when Lelouis was chosen as candidate. Secondly, the south-east of France has always been one of the strongholds of the extreme right (see Marine Le Pen: ‘Does the leopard change its spots…?’) and fuelled by many grievances, including the cost of living crisis, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region returned 21 RN MPs out of a total of 42. Carried through on that wave, she scored 54.96% of the vote against Mohamed Bensaada of NUPES, with abstentions nearing 63%.

She certainly speaks for many when she says that, having worked since the age of 17, having brought up children then divorced, she retired on an €850 (about £700) monthly state pension. Her objective as an MP: “to defend the elderly’s purchasing power”.

Édwige Diaz (Rassemblement National): Articulate woman on a mission

22 juin 2022 : Mme Edwige Diaz, députée de la 11e circonscription de la Gironde (33) Trombinoscope de la XVIe l‚gislature Portrait HD
copyright Assemblée nationale-2022

The new MP for the 11th Gironde constituency, on the other hand, is a rising star of the RN and has certainly justified the trust put in her by Marine Le Pen, who gave her a seat on the very exclusive executive bureau and appointed as her spokesperson. No RN wave in this part of Western France, traditionally left leaning, to carry 34-year-old Édwige Diaz, who is self-employed, to parliament. Rather, she had to plough her own furrow, travelling all over her largely rural constituency to make herself known and reassure voters of the respectability of her party. She had to seduce rural and historically left-wing voters who were not that concerned with inner-city issues, so often weaponised by the RN. Instead, she exploited the deep discontent about low wages, loss of purchasing power and lack of road infrastructure. The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) had, after all, been very active in the region and the RN offered them the chance for a protest vote. It worked: she stomped home with 58.70% of the votes.

Diaz was originally talent-spotted because the party, still very macho behind the highly visible Marine, needed to be seen to recruit more women. Diaz herself doesn’t appear interested in promoting women in public life per se, saying “I never fell into the trap of victimhood just because I am a woman”. She says her values are ‘national priority’ (favouring those who are French by birth as well as French companies), hard work and standing firm against immigration, very much the party line.

Conclusion

This is only a brief snapshot and whether these and other women can add a distinctive voice to parliament will have to be seen. The new NUPES recruits bring with them the variety and maybe the contradictions inherent in a loose coalition. The same could be said, to a lesser extent, of the Ensemble MPs. The Rassemblement National, on the other hand, while surprised at their own electoral success, will want to keep their intake on a tighter leash.

Ed: The information in this article is from several sources including lemonde.fr


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