The elections held in France on March 22 and 29 will set up the country for the presidential election in 2017. But they also mark a historical moment—for the first time, exactly half the seats on France's local councils will go to women.
As a result of radical reforms set in motion by the socialist government, each canton (ward) will elect, not one but two representatives, a man and a woman. They will stand on the same ticket, known as a binôme.
Whatever else happens across the two rounds of voting, France will wake up on Mar. 30 with departmental councils in which women make up 50% of the members. That’s a dramatic shift, since women make up just 14% of the councils now.
These local councils make decisions on social welfare, school meals, infrastructure and other issues at the local level. But they will also set up the political atmosphere for the presidential election. Right now, many in France are focusing attention on the far-right party Front National and Marine Le Pen, who has preformed strongly in recent past elections and has her eye on the French presidency.
Putting the specifics of France’s politics aside, the change heralds an increasing recognition that gender gaps should close in politics and other fields. The U.S. lags behind many other countries in putting women in positions of political power. Nordic countries — Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden — are closer to parity, at least according to a 2013 article by CNN.
Perhaps closing the gender gap in the make up of our elected officials can help close another one. Female and male voters have striking differences in who they vote for. Plus, a little more equality in politics might be a nice change.