April 21, 1944, a page in women's history
In France, universal suffrage was finally achieved for men in 1848. Women obtained it a century later, after the Second World War. Why this delay, when the Third Republic proclaimed itself to be progressive and egalitarian? The reasons were political: women were suspected of being under the influence of the Church and of voting for candidates chosen by it. Clearly, there was a great risk, for the Republicans, that women would vote against the Republic. But it was also feared that if women became too involved in politics, they would turn away from their role as mothers and caretakers of the home.
Les années de Gaulle – Le droit de vote des femmes
Why did French women only obtain the right to vote in 1944?
Women's right to vote - Charles de Gaulle Foundation
In Europe, after the First World War, women had the right to vote in all countries. In all countries? No, while Germany and England gave them the vote in recognition of their participation in the war effort, France and Italy did not.
However, for almost a century, all French men of age have had the right to vote. This is known as universal suffrage. Many women like Hubertine Auclert fought against this inequality. They received the support of some political parties but their demands were not met.
Firstly, because many republicans distrusted the church and suspected women of obeying the priest and voting for candidates who favoured the return of a king. Secondly, because many men defended a traditional view of society: women were meant to look after their homes and their role was not to be involved in politics.
One feminist, Louise Weiss, laughed: « Even if you give us the right to vote, gentlemen, your socks will be darned ». And so the question is debated. It was raised 77 times in Parliament between the two wars.
Women's participation in the Resistance
In 1940, France collapsed in front of Germany. After several years of fighting, in which women were involved, the country was liberated. In the midst of the conflict, General de Gaulle, then leader of the Resistance, undertook to redress this inequality.
For him, it was one of the symbols of what the new post-war France should be. Supported by the majority of resistance fighters, de Gaulle signed a law on 21 April 1944 giving the right to vote to all French women over the age of 21. It was in April 1945, in the municipal elections, that they exercised this right for the first time. However, the road to equality in politics is still long: women are still in a very small minority among the elected representatives of the Republic. Only one woman has been prime minister for a year and none has held the presidency of the Republic. In 1999, the principle of parity was written into the Constitution. Political parties are obliged to present as many women as men in elections.