The French pension reform that President Macron so desired is coming up against what everything France is famous for and not just the many things that immediately come to mind, like wine, croissants, baguettes, and Paris, the city of Love. More to the point: The proposed pension reform is hit by protests. Lots of protests.
Perhaps this is not surprising. After all, when the French are faced with stagnant wages, what do they do? Smash up a bank. Elitist education? Burn cars. Greedy royal family? Guillotine and Revolution!
So, why are the French protesting this time?
Macron has pushed, or at least tried to push, multiple reforms, ranging from taxes to employment and social dialogue.
His latest one is targeting the poorest of the nation, the ones working the most exhausting and laborious jobs. He’s generously gifting them two extra years of work by raising the pension age from 62 to 64.
Unsurprisingly, most of the population is unhappy with the prospect of a delayed pension, igniting protests nationwide.
Around two-thirds of the French oppose the reform, including 74% of women.
The very unhappy French thus took to the streets in protest.
According to the CGT Union, the March 7 strikes bought a “historic 3.5 million people” to the streets. However, official estimates are (as usual) much lower: These claims were refuted by the Interior Ministry, which put that figure at 1.28 million.
The country was almost brought to a standstill. Walkouts in electricity plants on Sunday cost the country 4 gigawatts across four cities; 20%-30% of flights on March 7 and 8 have been cancelled; and one in three TGV trains have been cancelled on Wednesday.
The protests over pension reform in France are getting tense. Big clashes with the police are breaking out
🚨 🚨 🚨
— Wall Street Silver (@WallStreetSilv) March 7, 2023
Over half a million workers took to the streets of Paris, protesting in the wealthy 6th arrondissement. Unions that historically would oppose each other seemed to have gathered to showcase their unity in this particular issue.
Amongst the protestors were thousands of women dressed as Rose the Riveter, the feminist icon in her blue overalls, chanting Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”.
Outside of being a political and monetary issue, it is also a grave feminist backtrack for the country.
Indeed, the reform’s Achilles Heel is the inequality it entails for women.
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The pension reform will negatively impact a large proportion of low-income workers. Aside from working an extra two years, individuals will also have to have worked 43 years to claim their full pension.
Although this comes hand-in-hand with an increase in the minimum pension of 2.5-5% for the 30% poorest, the government’s attempt to bring the employment rate in the 60-64-year-old category up from 33% (compared to 61% in Germany and 69% in Sweden) will impact women’s pensions the hardest.
Women: Career or Motherhood
Women are using the significance of March 8, International Women’s Day, as a rallying cry to condemn the inequality of the reform.
🇫🇷France’s enduring #genderPayGap is reflected in a discrepancy between the average pensions paid out to men and women : 40%
Why women’s anger is fuelling French #pension protests? more with @bendodman https://t.co/mKXrnEOF4I via @FRANCE24 #IWDPensionGap #IWD2023 #8thMarch
— Virginie Herz (@Virginie_Herz) March 8, 2023
Women’s pensions are already 40% lower than men’s, which adds insult to injury, as their pay was 22% lower than men’s, on average, in 2022.
In comparison, in Estonia, the average difference between men’s and women’s pensions is 3.3%, the lowest in Europe, followed by Slovakia at 7.6% and Denmark at 10.6%.
Still, the equal retirement age shouldn’t further exacerbate the inequality in the country, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not.
Retiring at 64 doesn’t automatically guarantee a full-rate pension. Only after 43 years of full-time work can individuals claim their pension.
In most French households, the woman is responsible for the upbringing and care of the child. It is thus widespread and sometimes necessary for women to work part-time to be able to take care of the child.
The years of maternity care and part-time work are not included in the 43 years of work.
Yet, the system is almost designed to incite women to stay home on certain days. On Wednesday, for example, most primary schools don’t have classes, and daycare centers are closed. As such, it falls on the woman to stay home with the child. How are women expected to work full-time?
Jobs such as nursing, teaching and cleaning, often occupied by women, will be targetted by the pension reform. Staying an extra two years in this job could often be challenging and detrimental to women’s health.
To compensate for the toll the reform would have on women’s pensions, the government promised to increase the minimum pensions, especially for women, up to €1,200 before tax.
Unfortunately, not all women will be eligible for this increase for the reasons mentioned previously.
Although the government claims that the reform would “foster justice and equality”, the reality is much less pleasant. Even one of Macron’s own ministers admitted in January that it would “leave women a little penalised”…
Macron’s effort to increase the workforce and decrease the pension budget deficit is commendable. His approach, however, seems out of touch with 21st Century demands and social structure.
In Russia in 1917, Women’s Day was used to protest wages, which escalated into the February Revolution. In 2023, in Europe, women still have to fight for equality by protesting for their rights on a day they should be celebrated.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Screenshot of protests in Paris, March 8, 2023. Featured Photo Credit: France 24 video (screenshot).