In a recent article in Libération, Murielle Guilbert, co-delegate of Solidaires launched this cry from the heart: "I no longer want to be the only woman in the photo!"

She had been "strongly arrested" after an image showing her with the eight other leaders of the inter-union fighting against the pension reform (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, Unsa, FSU and Solidaires) - all men -, she explained to AFP.

A poster that should soon change, with a candidate to succeed Philippe Martinez at the CGT, Marie Buisson and perhaps two with Céline Verzeletti, while on the CFDT side, Marylise Léon is often quoted to take over soon from Laurent Berger.

Having a woman at the head of the CGT after the man with the moustache, would be a first in 127 years of existence, while at the CFDT, Nicole Notat (1992 to 2002) was the first to lead a large central.

But "the choice of the number one must not be the tree that hides the forest of gender inequalities in trade unions," warns economist Rachel Silvera.

Nicole Notat in particular, "did not really carry equality issues as a central issue," she says, stressing that having a woman in pole position is therefore "not the right indicator".

It is necessary to see "first, where are the women in all structures: the governing bodies (offices, executive committees), but also the large departmental unions (UD)", federations and "as closely as possible" in companies.

However, on this level "we are halfway", says this specialist in equality issues.

"We are seeing progress in the management bodies. Since 1999, the CGT has displayed parity at the top, the CFDT also tends towards parity", while on the FO side, "we defend equality at work, on the other hand everything that is internal equality is a little taboo".

Marie Buisson, candidate for the head of the CGT, December 21, 2022 in Paris © STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP/Archives

In "sandwich"

But for all organizations, "as soon as you go down to the real decision-making places, the UD or federations, we are rather between 20 and 30% of women on average", with even some with "zero", points out the economist.

The sociologist Cécile Guillaume uses the image of the "sandwich" with a feminization that has been done "from below", notably thanks to the Rebsamen law of 2015 which provides for parity lists for professional elections, and "from the top" in some confederations.

In between, "there are the usual sticking points: we will find seasoned, rather aging militants who hold positions," she says.

"Where we still have to make progress is at the intermediate levels," confirms Béatrice Lestic, in charge of equality issues at the CFDT. "The work is not done, but there is a will," she says.

"It's progressing but too slowly," said Sophie Binet, her counterpart at the CGT. Since 2014, the organization has been taking stock of the situation "at all levels" that allows "to look in the mirror and to have tools of impulse," she says.

Cécile Guillaume observes "a real feminization of members, including in the CGT", where they are now 39%.

But it is not necessarily easy for them "to take mandates" because with professional and family responsibilities, "it is a bit of a triple charge".

In addition, the merger of staff representation bodies with the creation of CSEs "somewhat counteracts" feminization with "very heavy" mandates.

There is, she says, "a rather paradoxical conjunction with, on the one hand, the Rebsamen law, quotas from above, union cultures that are still less macho" and on the other hand factors "that hinder efforts". So a "somewhat nuanced" situation.

Marylise Léon, often quoted to soon take over from Laurent Berger at the CFDT, in Paris on March 15, 2023 © STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP/Archives

Union culture also plays a role, notes Silvera. The CGT remains "marked by a certain workerism": women's struggles are "often less visible and would embody less true trade unionism". Even if things are moving forward, "you still have to be an activist available... if possible mustached," she smiles.

© 2023 AFP