Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 January 2010
The French situation might appear to be a paradox when studying women in constitutional law. On the one hand, the Constitution of 1958, as amended, has not fundamentally altered women's constitutional status. The prevailing principle of republican universalism, conceived during the French Revolution in 1789, remains the key notion in the constitutional debate and the inspiration of all legal provisions. On the other hand, a recent constitutional reform vested parliament with the power to organize a “parity” or strict gender equality, democracy. This power resulted in the enactment of a statute requiring that, under certain conditions, an equal number of male and female candidates must appear on the lists submitted to voters for most elections. From this point of view, the French experience could appear a very innovative one.
France has a civil law system, with a clear separation between civil and administrative law (the former is codified for most issues, the latter is closer to case law) and separate adjudicative bodies (namely, the Cour de cassation [civil] and the Conseil d'Etat [administrative]). Insofar as most matters pertaining to women's legal status are governed by written texts (the Constitution, regular statutes, and sometimes administrative rules), adjudicative bodies are generally limited to applying those texts to concrete cases without creating new law.
The current Constitution is known as the Constitution of the Vth Republic. Adopted in 1958, it established a system of government that is sometimes characterized as a “presidential” system and sometimes as a “unique parliamentary system.”