Universities sign gender equality charter

Gender parity in university governance, teaching and training on gender equality for students and university personnel, and promoting research into gender are among measures ratified last week by French government ministers and organisations representing higher education institutions.

The Charter for Equality of Women and MenCharte pour l’Égalité Femmes-Hommes – was signed on 28 January by Geneviève Fioraso and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, minister for higher education and research and minister for women’s rights respectively, and the heads of the three conferences of university presidents (CPU), engineering schools (CDEFI) and grandes écoles (CGE), which together represent 300 higher education institutions.

While there are more women than men students in France, the proportion of female academics falls as levels in the hierarchy rise. According to most recent government figures, in universities women represent only 24% of professors, 27% of central committee members and 8% of managers. The number of women university presidents has halved since 2008 from 16 to eight in 2012.

Students tend to choose disciplines according to their gender, with women more often opting for languages, arts and human and social sciences, and men dominating sports sciences and basic and applied sciences.

Internationally France ranks below the 46% average in OECD countries for women’s representation among new PhDs, in 2009 scoring 43% – just ahead of The Netherlands and Belgium, but behind Iceland (63%), the United States (52%) and the United Kingdom (45%).

The new charter, which is non-binding but institutions are asked to adopt, is in line with the government’s overall gender equality policy introduced last year. After a common introduction it contains two sections, one endorsed by the CPU and CDEFI and the other by the CGE.

The CPU and CDEFI call for institutions to follow such practices as instilling mutual respect and discouraging sexual stereotyping; elimination of sexist language in administrative documents; annual publication of statistics concerning gender within the university; and debate on issues arising.

They recommend measures to ensure better gender balance of students across the curriculum; that students should not be penalised because of family obligations; and that they should be informed about rights and help for victims of violence and sexual harassment.

For university personnel, the CPU and CDEFI say women and men should be proportionally represented at all levels of governance and encouraged to take part in gender equality training. They should be kept informed about rights to maternity, paternity and other parental leave, and to part-time working.

Compulsory measures in the CGE’s less detailed section comprise education to raise students’ gender awareness, day courses for teaching staff, and the inclusion in students’ internship reports of a personal observation about gender equality. CGE options include gender studies that would count towards final results and coaching for women students to prepare them for business careers.

At the charter-signing ceremony Fioraso also presented the ministry’s wide-ranging action plan of more than 40 measures to combat sexism and discrimination in higher education and research.

These include integrating equity aims and actions into contracts between the ministry and institutions, with the appointment of university equality officials responsible for coordinating and carrying out policies; developing the teaching of gender equality in all courses; preventive action to combat violence against women, including sexual harassment; and priority for research into gender issues.

Legislation on higher education and research to take effect later this year will introduce gender parity into governance of universities and other higher education institutions, a key element of the ministry’s plan.