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Interview: H.E. Ambassador Fabien Penone of France to Korea
Mr. Fabien Penone, French Ambassador to Korea, says
“Men should recognize gender inequalities”

 Legislative actions are only part of the solution;

 Changes in behaviour and values should first take place;

 First woman Minister of Education in French history;

 Prominence of women in French politics and business


▲    ©Jeong-Sil LEE, Photo Journalist

Among the European Union Member States, France reported the highest fertility rate in 2014, with 2.01 live births per woman. France’s success in raising the birth rate lies in its inclusive policy measures, including the allowances for pregnancy and childbirth, support to childcare and education, and various tax credits for families. In commemoration of the 130th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and France, The Women’s News met with the French Ambassador to Korea, Mr. Fabien Penone (pictured above) at the Ambassador’s residence and discussed gender equality policies of France.      


-What is the current status of gender equality and especially work-life balance in France?

“France has been very active on tackling gender inequalities: in just two years, between 2013 and 2015, France improved its global gender gap ranking in the World Economic Forum’s report, moving up to the 16th from the previous 45th. Women’s labour participation rate is also on the increase with rates now superior to 85%, along with the gradual decline in the gender wage gap.

As for work-life balance, I think France is among the countries that are relatively doing better, as our female labour participation rate is increasing without significant setback in the birth rate: in 2014, France reported the highest fertility rate in the European Union, together with Ireland, with 2.01 live births per woman. The stable birth rate is a major asset to the future of our country, as a quarter of the population is under 20 years of age and keeping our economy young and vibrant.

Recently we passed key legislations to further reduce the gender gap, notably by fixing quotas and banning gender-based discriminations. For instance, boards of directors at big companies and high-profile posts in public administration should meet the minimum quota of 40% by 2017 and 2018, respectively. Yet, we must not forget that taking legislative action is only the very first step. It is also utterly important to help the mentality of people evolve, especially to have all men be aware of the present gender inequalities.”


-What is the situation of French women in politics?

“France achieved gender parity in its cabinet, with 9 male Ministers and 9 female Ministers, as well as 10 male deputy Ministers and 10 female deputy Ministers. Ours is reportedly the one of the unique government in the world to have attained such gender parity.

In 2014, the first female Minister of Education in French history was appointed, and I believe this appointment helped make faster progress in closing the gender gap in politics.

The number of women representatives is also on the increase; currently 26% of the members of National Assembly are women.”


-What about French women in business?

“Just a few weeks ago, Ms. Isabelle Kocher was appointed as the chairman of a French company called Engie, and became the first ever ‘chairwoman’ of a CAC40 group, the country’s 40 biggest companies. 

Another prominent woman in the field is Ms. Christine Lagarde, who was recently reappointed as the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Ms. Lagarde is also the 5th most influential woman in the world, according to the Forbes magazine.

France is where the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society was founded in 2005. The forum is held annually in Deauville, France, and provides an opportunity to leading women of business and other areas to speak out on a range of issues. It is ranked among the most influential forums worldwide, and is often referred to as the ‘Davos for women’.”


-Please share your story of work-life balance with us.

“As a father of four, I know how demanding it is to raise children while working fulltime as a diplomat. Between my wife and I, we try to share the work and help each other out, as my wife also has her career. We also get support from the childcare systems of France and the countries we reside in; for instance in Korea, my youngest loves going to kindergarten everyday, where she is the only foreign kid in the class.”


-What is the status of childcare support in France?

“Last year, France started offering one of the longest childcare leaves in the world. Both parents can now use up to full six months to take care of their child as per the new rules. In addition to this, there has been continuous effort to increase the number of nurseries and now there are about 400,000 nurseries available in the country. Financial allowances and generous tax exemptions also play an important role. In France, when you have your first child, you receive a ‘birth benefit (prime à la naissance); with your second child, you get ‘family subsidies (allocations familiales)’; and if you have more than three children, you are eligible for tax exemptions.

Korea has one of the lowest birth rates among OECD countries today. Maybe France’s diverse policy measures could serve as reference to Korean policy makers. Although, I must add that these policies are costly: France spends nearly 80 billion euros per year on its family policies. Yet it is considered not only as a support to the families, but the nation’s investment in future.”


-The 130th anniversary of France-Korea diplomatic relations has come.

“This year is the ‘year of France’ in Korea, and various events celebrating the occasion would continue well into the end of December. About 200 events are scheduled to take place in Seoul and other major cities in Korea, on themes ranging from arts and culture, economy, science and innovation, university cooperation and youth exchanges, gastronomy, to sports and others.

Last November, we had the State visit of President François Hollande to Korea, and so this year we hope to continue working on strengthening our bilateral relations, with the implementation of the Action Plan, the agreements, and the Memorandum of Understanding that were signed during the President’s visit.

The priorities covered in the above-mentioned agreements include: strengthening dialogues on global issues; developing security and defence cooperation; diversifying economic relations with a special focus on creative industries such as the future-oriented technologies and start-ups, or emerging new sectors like tourism; strengthening university cooperation, student exchanges, and vocational training; and fostering exchanges between regions and cities.

In this regard, I expect this anniversary to serve as the opportunity to initiate productive long-term projects between our two nations and people.”   [End]


Hye-Young CHO, Editor in Chief / Trans by Do-Yen YOON
1387호 [World] (2016-06-28)
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