From 1944, Free France and De Gaulle reflected on the social and societal reforms that would have to be put in place once peace returned. Thewomen's right to vote in Franceis a highly symbolic and long overdue measure. For nearly a century, French women have in fact been excluded from universal suffrage, and France will be one of the last European countries to remedy this anomaly. It was in the municipal elections of April 29, 1945 that women voted for the first time.
From the Revolution to the suffragettes
Paradoxically, it was the French Revolution which brutally slowed down the aspirations of women to participate in political life. In 1789, Father Sieyès distinguished between “active” and “passive” citizens, and classified women in the second category on the same basis as children, foreigners or all those who could not pay a tax. electoral. Despite Condorcet's appeal, they were officially excluded from the right to vote by the National Assembly on December 22, 1789, an exclusion maintained by the Constitution of 1791, then by a vote of the National Convention on July 24, 1793. And this few months before the execution of Olympe de Gouges, author of the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizen.
Throughout the 19th century, women struggled against this illogicality of being sidelined in the political arena. Tribunes in the newspapers, creation of clubs, public interventions, petitions, demonstrations, attempts to register on the electoral rolls give an audience to this fight. Even if they do not or little follow the direct actions and radical methods of the “suffragettes” from across the Channel, the demands for the right to vote of French women nonetheless remain firm.
Women's right to vote: strong resistance
In the first half of the twentieth century, bills to grant women the right to vote were passed by the Chamber of Deputies, before the Senate rejected them, either by indefinitely postponing the text, or by opposing it by vote. The Senate is the main institutional blocking point for the adoption of the measure. The radicals, around whom the entire parliamentary majority is organized, do not want to hear about a reform threatening the political balance. They suspect women of being influenced by the clergy. They are perceived as "under the influence", their political maturity seems doubtful like their republican devotion.
The support shown by the pope to the vote for women from 1919 further strengthens in the minds of the radicals the idea that the Church is trying through women to regain influence in society. France in the Third Republic therefore never took the plunge, even if it encouraged progress in the education of girls and if the Popular Front government of Léon Blum entrusted three secretariats of state to women in 1936. The deputies remained reluctant and senators even more careful to protect the “Republican” temple from the threat of the “skullcap”.
The combat found all its legitimacy during the Second World War, a period during which women had to work, participate in the war effort, sometimes engaged in the Resistance, while continuing to take care of their home and their family, while the men had gone to the front. The new political power, younger, resulting from the Resistance, recognizes to women the full responsibility of citizens by following the evolution of the great democratic countries. And it is quite naturally that the power established in Algiers decides to grant to women the right to vote by an ordinance of April 21, 1944. They become voters and eligible under the same conditions as the men.
The double referendum of October 1945 on the acceptance of a new regime and the limitation of the powers of the Constituent Assembly, at the same time as on the election to this same Constituent Assembly, saw them go to the polls. There is no doubt that women counted for a good part in the electorate of the Gaullist RPF created in 1947 and in the majorities which would gather subsequently, after his return to power, behind General de Gaulle. In any case, this is what the supporters of anticlerical radicalism feared.
The trend has since changed and the female electorate is less and less distinguished from the male electorate, even though the demographic situation means that older women outnumber men of the same generation, which explains their greater vote. conservative. Women are now voters, but there will still be some way to go for the equality of men and women ...
Bibliography on women's suffrage in France
- Anne-Sarah Bouglé-Moalic, Le vote des Françaises: Hundred Years of Debates 1848-1944, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012.