Oxford University Comparative Law Forum
The Law on Gender Parity in Politics in France and New Caledonia:
A Window into the Future or More of the Same?
By Alan Berman*
(2005) Oxford U Comparative L Forum 2 at ouclf.iuscomp.org | How to cite this article
Table of contents
The political participation of women in France and European and Kanak1
women in New Caledonia2 has been brought into sharp
focus by an amendment to the French Constitution in mid-1999 (allowing for the
implementation of the law on parity) mandating that women must constitute fifty
percent of the electoral lists for certain elective offices.3
The law on parity merely requires that, for those elected offices to which the
law applies, there should be roughly equal representation of women and men on
the eligible lists. The law does not guarantee equality of representation on
elected bodies. It merely provides a field upon which women can compete with
men. In this way, the law creates formal legal access without guaranteeing substantive
This article examines the historical roots of the French constitutional
amendment allowing the law on parity to be implemented in France and its
overseas territories, including without limitation, New Caledonia. It
will outline the history and nature of the feminist movement in France
and the influence of some feminists within the French government in
achieving this formal legal change. It will also chronicle the
anachronistic arguments proffered during the French debates and by some
French feminists circles opposed to constitutional reform.
The roughly concurrent debates in New Caledonia concerning gender parity in
politics are also sketched. Finally, the article will canvass the historical
storyline of resistance to gender parity in New Caledonia by some Kanak male
political leaders (including the executive committee of the largest Kanak political
umbrella group-FLNKS) and Customary Authorities and the unity such resistance
generated amongst all women's groups in New Caledonia.
This article argues that the roughly concurrent debates on parity in
France and New Caledonia did not parallel each other. The storyline in
France was one of resistance (from some feminists and many men in the
institutionalized bureaucratic political establishment) accompanied by
fairly widespread public acceptance. Women in France, for the most part,
supported parity. However, the debate on the law in France produced
some splits amongst women, particularly within the socialist wing of the
feminist movement. Thus, there was much more resistance amongst women
to application of the law on parity in France than in New Caledonia.
Traditionally French feminists have been strongly allied to the
political left. Some French feminists were uneasy about supporting a
constitutional reform measure that also received the support of women
and men on the other side of the political spectrum. Given the
relatively greater size and population in metropolitan France as well as
greater diversity in the feminist movement, it was harder to prompt
discipline and loyalty amongst women's groups in France.
Though there have often been politically charged differences between
women's groups in the Southern Province (where the majority of the
population are caldoche-white settlers) and those in the Northern
Province and the Loyalty Islands (where most people are Kanaks), a
greater sense of solidarity developed amongst women's groups in New
Caledonia. The female voice was highly important in enhancing
participatory and representative democracy in geographically isolated
New Caledonia and seems to have been a major factor in forging unity
amongst women's groups. The feminist movement in New Caledonia is, for
the most part, non-existent. Only a few women's groups associate
themselves with a feminist movement. Many women in New Caledonia
(especially Kanak women) shun any association with feminism or a larger
Women's Liberation Movement. Their narratives suggest support for parity
was not based on ideological identification with feminism. Rather, they
insinuate pragmatic unity to enhance the airing of an array of female
voices on representative bodies as well as deal with a colonial legacy
of invisibility of most women (especially Kanak women) in the public and
Facially similar laws applied in different contexts often produce
disparate impacts. The disparate impact of parity in France and New
Caledonia is a testament to this theory. This article examines the
impact of this law on the political participation of women in France as
well as its impact on women in New Caledonia.
This piece argues that the attempt to achieve equality of representation through
the law on parity (a formal legal mechanism) has yielded unremarkable results
in France in securing mayoral positions or seats in the French Senate. This
article outlines the machinations and resistance to parity from old line political
hacks and institutionalized bureaucratic political parties historically hostile
to women in government in France. Some political parties did not comply with
the spirit, if not the letter, of parity. Their manoeuvrings reflected a strong
reluctance to share the reins of power. The discouraging results in France demonstrate
the limited utility of measures endorsed by liberal or moderate feminists. Such
measures include working within existing patriarchal state structures in the
hope that formal legal access will achieve substantive outcomes. The experience
in France shows the pitfalls with a liberal feminist approach to gender parity
Some radical or socialist feminists have been dismissive of this type of constitutional
law reform from its inception. Some socialist feminists would argue the experience
in France proves the limited utility of facial reforms granting legal access
as a means of redressing gender inequality. According to Socialist feminists,
the underlying structural causes of gender inequality must be addressed (including
race and class inequity and patriarchal structures) in order to meaningfully
change gender inequality. Nothing short of a total overhaul of the social, economic
and patriarchal structures are needed to address gender inequity. While the
author believes this may be true, it is not a justifiable reason to reject lesser
On the other hand, the results of parity in New Caledonia demonstrate
the potential of measures endorsed by moderate or liberal feminists in
granting formal legal access. The application of parity in New Caledonia
has spawned potentially significant substantive outcomes in terms of
representation of women in political offices in New Caledonia. The 2004
Provincial elections marked a watershed in the post-contact period in
New Caledonia. This was the first time that two women had been elected
to the two most powerful positions in the executive government. In
addition, the representation of women in Provincial government leaped
dramatically from 16.7% prior to the implementation of parity to 46.3%.
The law on parity cannot be considered in isolation in New Caledonia.
The policies and laws implemented by politically successful women in New
Caledonia must be carefully examined to determine if such actions are
generating an assortment of female voices on issues important to women
(eg. domestic violence, alcohol abuse, rape, incest and female autonomy)
and closing the gap on gender inequality in the socio-economic and
cultural spheres of society. This is a central element for further
feminist inquiry. There are many sceptics, particularly amongst some
radical or socialist feminists in France.
This raises wider issues about the utility for women in serving in
political institutions which have historically been a male preserve.
There is an inherent conflict between effecting basic change in the
historical dominant discourse about the role of women in public affairs
and closing the gap in social, racial and class divisions and the need
to collaborate with a historically repressive system. At a minimum, the
greater representation of women in New Caledonia in provincial and
executive government provides an opportunity for an array of female
voices to be heard, thereby enhancing the prospects for the institutions
of government to be truly participatory and representative. This
includes Kanak women, who are more likely to approach issues with an
appreciation of their historically subordinated role as an underclass of
colonized peoples who have been subjected to racism and capitalism.
The constitutional change followed by the implementing legislation of
parity allows for poststructuralist discourse and analysis. The change
in the law has the potential to positively affect the historical
dominant discourse about the unsuitability of women for public office.
The law on parity presents a different version of social and political
relations to the historical dominant discourse, which such discourse
relegated women to an imperceptible role in public and political
affairs. In so doing, it is possible that changes in the way women's
public and political roles are viewed in a variety of foras may be
positively affected so that the public come to understand the
representation of women is crucial in facilitating the values of
diversity and pluralism, both of which are considered important in a
Nonetheless, the resistance to change in the Kanak community vividly
illustrates the hurdles Kanak women continue to face in achieving
greater gender parity in representation and influence in the political
affairs of New Caledonia. The splits in the anti-independence movement
reflected in the most recent Provincial elections will also be explored.4
The difficulties faced by the newly elected President of the New
Caledonian executive branch, Mme. Themereau, in forming a government
reveals the obstacles faced by all women in New Caledonia in attempting
to implement the results of the recently held provincial elections in
May 2004. Her experiences substantiate the claim that women face
difficulties in entering a male dominated political culture. The climate
for women to become part of the political colonial establishment
remains very chilly at least amongst some men representing the full
spectrum of political allegiances in New Caledonia.
This article concludes that the debates in both New Caledonia and France
on parity followed different paths. Moreover, the facially similar laws
applied in different contexts yielded different results. The factors
accounting for these disparate results are complex and could include a
vigorous and diverse feminist movement (representing the whole gamut of
feminist theory from moderate or liberal to radical or socialist) in
France in which different strands within such movement are driven by
differences in ideological conviction. By contrast, the lack of a
feminist movement in New Caledonia enabled women to unite on pragmatic
grounds, recognizing the importance of female voices on the actual
issues addressed by representative bodies as well as the type of laws
passed. In addition, the relatively small population in geographically
isolated New Caledonia made it easier to institute the provisions of
parity, which received widespread publicity in the media and support
from women's groups as well as funding from the metropole to ensure
successful implementation. The initial lack of unity amongst women in
France may be one factor in a complex mix (amongst several others
including differences in population numbers, geographical location and
size as well as distinctive historical, cultural, social and political
influences) that help explain why the facially similar laws on parity
applied in different contexts produced disparate impacts in France and
At the very least, the law on parity has symbolic significance. The
constitutional reform sends a message to all communities in France and
New Caledonia that the French government recognizes a historical legacy
of the invisibility of women in the public and political arena. The law
on parity arguably evinces intent to redress this historical imbalance.
The Law on Parity: Representative Democracy and Feminist Outcomes?
Political institutions in France and New Caledonia have historically been dominated
by men and the views emanating from such institutions have been slanted towards
men. This calls into question the extent to which these institutions are truly
representative bodies, particularly in relation to women.5
Women, including those in third world countries, have come to realize that gaining
the right to vote has been insufficient on its own in the achievement of political
equality. They have recognized the importance of actual representation in public
office as well as in overseeing the implementation of laws.6
Political representation of women is important in furthering feminist aims
and values associated with participatory democracy, such as promoting diversity
Diversity in political representation is important for developing an understanding
of, and assessing, any discrepancies in the way particular state policies effect
(a) the lives of women vis-à-vis men and (b) discrete categories of women,
such as European women and Kanak women.8
Pluralism is equally important as it signifies "the political expression of
ensuring that the perspectives of an array of interests (eg. race, gender, territorial,
ethnic) can be voiced on important issues considered within political institutional
structures of government.10
The airing of female voices is important in generating the views of both genders
on representative bodies. The expression of these other views can have an impact
on the actual issues addressed by representative bodies (eg. domestic violence,
rape, incest, alcohol abuse and unemployment) as well as the type of laws passed
(eg. laws regulating the right of a woman to freely choose abortion).11
While the distinction in female political voice is important for some feminists,
others have pointed out the discrepancy in reality in many instances between
actual female representation on representative bodies and the advancement and
protection of women's interests.12
Nevertheless, the enforced introduction of women onto the electoral lists for
certain elective offices potentially enhances the representation of the voices
of women at the political level. It also fosters values of diversity and pluralism
both of which are arguably crucial to the healthy functioning of a representative
Even in the absence of facilitating these outcomes, the law on parity has
symbolic significance in several respects. First, the constitutional reform
sends a message to all communities in France and New Caledonia that the French
government recognises a historical legacy of the invisibility of women in the
public and political arena. Secondly, the law on parity arguably evinces intent
to redress this historical imbalance.14
Enchancing Representative Democracy in the New Caledonian Context
A Pacific Parliamentary Retreat, sponsored by The Center for Democratic Institutions
and the Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, held in Brisbane,
Australia in December 200115,
noted that Pacific countries (including New Caledonia) are confronted with the
task of achieving an appropriate equilibrium between indigenous custom and the
modern notions of representative democracy as well as accountability.16
The participants noted the heavy subsidies provided by the French government
in New Caledonia in furthering the process of development and supporting governing
institutions in the Kanak controlled regions. They also engaged in a comprehensive
debate about gender issues in the Pacific as well as responses in New Caledonia
to the law on parity. They noted the disparity of views within the Kanak community
on the application of parity. Some Kanaks (presumably mostly men) favoured an
exemption for New Caledonia on implementation of this law on the basis that
there was an insufficient pool of qualified women eager to serve on the rolls
for elective office. Others felt the law should be applied in the same fashion
globally so that Kanak women would benefit to the same extent as other women
(in France and its other overseas territories) from evolving universal norms
of gender equity in political affairs.17
As discussed later in this article, the concerns voiced in this forum
over an insufficient pool of qualified Kanak women never eventuated.
Indeed, this concern, expressed very publicly by Senator Loueckhote and
some Customary Authorities, was not borne out by the actual election
experience. It is possible this argument was put forward as a
smokescreen to deny a shift in power over representative institutions
from Kanak men to Kanak women.
Feminist Views on the Law on Parity
The law on parity is a classic example of legal reform embraced by moderate
or liberal feminists as a transformative measure to enable women to achieve
formal equality. Liberal feminists tend to view modernization as beneficial
to women and characterize the pre-capitalist period as 'traditional' and retrograde.
Some commentators criticize such characterizations as overly simplistic on the
basis that there is no attempt to examine closely the character of 'tradition'
as a constantly evolving process that can be impacted by acts of collusion between
the colonizing power and an indigenous 'patriarchy.'18
Formal equality merely guarantees access while substantive equality focuses
on actual outcomes. The law on parity has the potential for increasing the participation
and representation of women in public life, but provides no substantive guarantees.19
Liberal or moderate feminists strive to work within existing patriarchal state
structures to address obvious inequalities in the social, work and political
spheres of society.20
For this reason, they support rules mandating gender quotas for party candidate
lists that provide legal access but provide no guarantee of substantive outcomes.21
Some radical or socialist feminists in France are skeptical as to whether
such quotas are capable of equalizing imbalances in political power between
the genders. The law does not address the underlying structural and other factors
that inhibit the participation of women in politics. Moreover, the law on parity
attempts to create a new power dynamic that is at variance with the existing
power imbalance. Some socialist feminists assert that discrimination on the
basis of race and class is inexorably entangled with a social system that is
patriarchal. Change in racial and class divisions as well as structures of patriarchy
can only occur through a complete revolution of the social system.22
might embrace such a law, not as a substantive guarantee of representation of
women, but rather as a potential site for generating new discursive possibilities
in the struggle for social influence in a variety of fields including political
bodies, and in other conventional fora in the Kanak community (eg. the clan
and/or tribe) and contemporary fora in the wider New Caledonian community (eg.
the family, education and the media).24
According to feminist poststructuralists, subjectivity is generated in a vast
array of social, political and economic dialogue. This range of discourse contains
meanings which carry great significance because they are the perpetual location
of battles over power. Such discourse is not only the key factor in producing
political change but also in maintaining the state of affairs that currently
exists. Aspects of subjectivity are created historically and capable of being
altered in the battlefield of economic, social and political discourse.25
Thus, the dynamics of power relations based on gender can be altered through
a political struggle over commanding meanings and ideas about women.26
The historically dominant discourse marginalizing women in public and political
affairs in France and New Caledonia has been challenged by the law on parity
and the version of political and social relations this law implicitly fosters.
Changes in language can, through the passage of time, come to reflect significant
changes in the way women's public and political roles are viewed in a variety
of foras affecting the subjectivities of individuals. The law on parity alters
the language of the French Constitution and of laws implementing gender parity
in France and New Caledonia. Thus, it has the potential to change attitudes
in Kanak and European society and to generate the understanding that women's
participation and representation in political institutions is essential to achieving
the aims of participatory democracy. The previously virtually imperceptible
role of women in the public sphere has the possibility of changing. Parity has
the potential to create a more robust public profile for women. With such heightened
profile, parity represents the possibility for women to exert greater political
Origins of the Constitutional Amendment and the French Context
The push for Constitutional change and greater gender parity in political representation
had its genesis in France. On a practical level, the law on parity was designed
to redress an historical imbalance of under-representation of women in governing
political bodies in France as well as the European Union.28
In France, women of all ethnicities have been historically marginalized in the
representative bodies shaping their destiny as well as in the dominant discourse
concerning political representation. The historical under-representation of
women in political life in France is the product of discrimination. Women have
historically been essentially culturally marginalized and consigned to studying
and practising in areas conforming with gender stereotypes rather than disciplines,
such as history, that would reveal the persistent discrimination faced by women
in the public arena.29
For a long time, France maintained policies in relation to women that were more
regressive than those of other countries, such as the United States, even though
women in France were aware at an earlier time of their subordinated political
and legal status.30
The French Revolution of 1789 resulted in the acquisition of some fundamental
rights, such as the right to own private property and equal protection of the
laws. Certain freedoms, including freedom of expression, were also granted.
None of these freedoms or rights were extended to women. Men were guaranteed
the right to vote in the mid-nineteenth century. Women had to wait for almost
another century (1945) before acquiring the fundamental right to vote in municipal
elections. There was much resistance at the time to extending this right, even
amongst women, the majority of whom objected to a constitutionally entrenched
right for women to vote. As late as 1958, nearly fourteen years after women
acquired the right to vote and participated as fighters in the Resistance movement,
the representation of women to elected bodies in the National Assembly and the
Senate actually dwindled to less than 2% in both institutions of government.
Even in granting women the right to vote in France, most suffragists justified
such a right on the basis that "feminine values" would benefit the political
process, rather than asserting that political equality would foster values important
for a participatory and representative democracy.31
During the 1970s, women serving in the government of Giscard D'Estaing, such
as Simone Veil, advanced women's issues by legalizing and later fostering access
to abortion. The first female Prime Minister, Mme. Cresson, was appointed by
President Mitterand in 1991. However, her tenure was brief.32
Subsequently, in 1995, President Chirac set up a monitoring authority on gender
inequality. The authority seemed to have minimal impact on the representation
of women in the Office of the Prime Minister. Within six months of their appointment,
three quarters of the women serving in the Office of the Prime Minister had
been dismissed en masse, resulting in US media reports of "Black Tuesday" in
As of June 2000, France had fewer than 11% women serving as Members of Parliament.
This dismal representation of women in Parliament placed France in the fifty
ninth position amongst nations in the world (and considerably behind other countries
of the European Union). A 2000 report on women and economic and political decision-makers
in metropolitan France revealed "persistent discrimination." Women make up slightly
more than half the voters in France, but they are very much a minority of elected
representatives. Before parity, women constituted 5.9% Senators, 6.6% Departmental
Councillors, 8% Mayors, 10.9% Members of Parliament, 21.8% Town Councillors
and 25% Regional Councillors. The 2000 report was discussed by the Council for
Economic and Social Affairs.34
Aside from lack of political representation, women in France have also historically
suffered from discrimination in the workplace. Since the beginning of the 20th
century in France, there has been a gradual increase in the number of women
in paid employment. From 1990 through 2003, the percentage of French women gainfully
employed as a percentage of women of working age rose from just 50% to 56.7%.
However, there are far more women near the bottom of the social scale than in
positions of responsibility.35
For example, though women are often better qualified than men they are prevented
from advancing in their careers. Just 7% of executives in the 5000 largest French
companies (and only 5% of senior managers in the largest 200 French companies)
are women. The disparity between women's and men's salaries is 27%. Women are
also more affected generally by lack of job security and unemployment. In response
to the facially discriminatory experiences of women in the workplace, France
adopted a law in April 2000 requiring companies to negotiate gender parity in
Women's dignity as human beings has also been under assault much more than
men in France. They experience greater rates of violence, harassment, rape and
These historical facts concerning the role and status of women in public affairs
as well as the workplace demonstrate that French women have been extended, throughout
most of the history of the French Republic, fewer rights and freedoms than their
male counterparts. They have also been relegated to actual and metaphorical
positions of insignificance within the political and economic affairs of France.
Though their participation in the workforce has grown over the past twenty five
years, they have not advanced in their careers to the same extent as men. Moreover,
those women not participating in the workforce have assumed roles largely circumscribed
to the private domestic household context within the marital relationship for
the purposes of child bearing and rearing.38
As discussed later in this article, previous attempts to mandate gender parity
in politics failed. Some have argued the feminist movement reached a zenith
in the 1980s. Nevertheless, there is still a vigorous feminist movement in France
representing the whole gamut of feminist theory from moderate or liberal to
radical or socialist. Indeed, in 1996, a move to amend the Constitution to require
gender parity gathered momentum in France as ten women politicians representing
a gamut of political parties published a proposal for parity to be entrenched
in the French Constitution.39
The New Caledonian Experience
In New Caledonia, women have faced similar obstacles to those of French women
attempting to enter into the public sphere. Kanak women have been token participants
historically in the political affairs of New Caledonia. The under-representation
of women in the Territorial Congress and town Councils in New Caledonia is even
more conspicuous than in France. In 1998, there were no women serving in the
Territorial Congress in New Caledonia. There were approximately twenty Kanak
women serving amongst the 700 town councillors. In the 1999 Provincial elections
in which the law of parity was not applied, four Kanak women were elected and
joined the Provincial Parliaments.40
There are several factors that have contributed to their invisibility in political affairs.
The challenge of fulfilling multiple roles (eg. family, customary and political)
and the significant time commitment this entails might explain on a practical
level why Kanak women have in the past chosen to remain outside the political
arena. Running for political office and/or serving as a political officeholder
would arguably impact on the ability of Kanak women to fulfil their customary
Conventional tribal practice essentially precludes the verbal participation
of Kanak women in tribal discussions (La parole).42
Kanak women have never assumed public profiles in the political affairs of the
The imperceptible role of Kanak women historically in political decision-making
is thus partly a reflection of "social conditioning which leads them to avoid
behaviour that might be interpreted as aggressive."44
This conditioning has resulted in the internalization of fear and lack of confidence
in playing a more vigorous role in public affairs.45
Dewe Gorodey, Vice President of New Caledonia, believes that religion has
played a more important role than custom in dissuading Kanak women from entering
the political arena because of the conventional discourse within much Catholic
and Protestant religious practise that portrays women as subordinated objects
of men.46 Regional
church leaders have reiterated these same points by recognizing that male dominated
hierarchical structures within religious establishments represent hurdles for
greater gender parity amongst indigenous women in the Pacific. Addressing the
SPC 9th Pacific triennial conference of Women, Reverand Akuila Yabaki,
executive director of the Citizens Constitutional Forum in Fiji, told delegates
that religious establishments in the Pacific need to demonstrate support for
disadvantaged groups within society, which are usually comprised mostly of women.
He also acknowledged that traditional institutions within Pacific societies
have been infiltrated with patriarchal and hierarchical structures that inhibit
the advancement of women.47
There are other factors as well that have contributed to the exclusion of
women in politics as well as the economic affairs of the territory. In the past,
women have consistently been discouraged from entering politics because the
public sphere has been viewed as an almost exclusively male domain in both France
and New Caledonia.48
No political party in New Caledonia (or France) has recognised the historical
oppression and subordination of women. In New Caledonia and France, individuals
must be members of a political party before they can serve as candidates for
public office. Women have not historically been encouraged to enter politics
in France and New Caledonia.
As with their counterparts in the metropole, women in New Caledonia have also
been consigned to actual and figurative positions of insignificance within the
realm of public and economic affairs of the territory. Their roles have also
been largely restricted to the private sphere and the domestic household context
within the marital relationship. Indeed with regard to women in the workforce
in New Caledonia, the statistics are even more bleak than those of France. According
to the last census (Itsee), the proportion of women in the working population
was 38,5% in 1996. Out of 24,783 working women, 87.4% are employed in the service
sector. For businesses with more than 10 employees, there are only 103 women
managers as compared with 492 men. In the category of senior executives and
intellectual profession, women represent only 26.3%. There are also more unemployed
women: 22.5% as compared with 16.1%. In 1998 the Commission for Women's Rights
organized a study on the participation of women in public life. The study revealed
a greater difference between men's and women's salaries in New Caledonia than
in Metropolitan France (32% as compared with 25% in France). The Commission
for Women's Rights in the Southern Province decided to make the issue of the
role of women in professional and public life a theme of their Women's Day on
8 March 2001.49
To the extent women have entered politics in the past, they have faced hostility
and resistance from men. Francoise Caillard, leader of the Union of Women Citizens
of New Caledonia, has articulated the lack of influence retained by women who
managed to be elected to political bodies:
"The situation of women with respect to the work force and public
life is much more alarming in New Caledonia. There are women who are elected
representatives in political institutions but in actual fact few have much power.
The domination of men in politics can be explained by the traditions of Oceanic
culture and custom....There is a big communication problem, particularly in
There is a discernable lack of literature on women in New Caledonia.51
This is arguably a reflection of the dominant colonial view discounting the
historical, cultural, socio-economic and political significance of women, especially
Kanak women, in the colonial era. They were viewed by the colonizers as mostly
impotent and certainly (as with Western women at the time), they were considered
incapable of assuming leadership responsibilities within the European world.52
The few early colonialist writings portrayed Kanaks generally as "primitive."
Kanak women in particular were depicted as either "slaves" or essentially culturally
invisible in a male dominated culture. The references to Kanak women reflected
racist sentiments and portrayed them in a dehumanized way. The colonial administration
implemented racist practices by the creation of the fictitious tribal reserve
areas and the subsequent compulsory confinement of Kanaks to these areas. The
conventional clan was not recognized as the legal owner of occupied land. Artificial
administrative entities ("tribes') were legally recognized as the rightful owners
of such land. The composition of these tribes was left to the personal judgment
of the Governor of New Caledonia. Such actions undermined the conventional Kanak
system of land rights and had a traumatizing impact on the identity of the Kanak
people. The later actions of the colonists in actively supporting migration
of European women to New Caledonia to restrict mixed-race relations also served
the goals of the colonial undertaking by separating Kanaks as an underclass
of colonized peoples to render management of the colonial process a smooth one.53
The subordinated and arguably invisible role of women in Kanak society reflected
(and later reinforced) their lack of participation in political institutions
in New Caledonia. This is a common trend in Pacific Island societies where women
generally assume largely concealed roles in the public sphere. Women fail to
receive encouragement for assuming a public profile. Those women who are able
to enter the realm of politics are often subject to ridicule for failing to
measure up to conventional norms which relegate women to the private domestic
sphere and public positions of invisibility. These factors are effective in
restraining changes in social norms that would encourage women to enter the
The Role of Women's Groups in France and New Caledonia
The emergence of women's associations in both France55
and New Caledonia has resulted in many women assuming more public profiles outside
the domestic household to address aspects of their historical oppression, such
as economic, social and political marginalization as well as domestic violence
and alcohol abuse. A growing number of Kanak women have come to express themselves
with greater self-assurance through involvement in these groups.56
Many of these groups have sought to reform gender roles and relationships on
a more equitable basis, including support for the mid-1999 Constitutional amendment
allowing for the law on parity to be implemented.57
Discussions concerning the participation of women of all ethnicities in the
political affairs of New Caledonia began in earnest in 1996 when the Pacific
Women's Resource Bureau (PWRB) conducted a workshop in New Caledonia to encourage
greater participation of women in the major policy decisions affecting their
discussions produced some common conclusions, including the scarcity of female
participation in national politics.59
The low profile of Kanak women in private and customary society "including the
way in which women's status is determined by their reproductive roles and the
oppressive nature of customs and traditions" was also a common theme emerging
in the workshop. Other issues were also canvassed, including the shifting roles
of men and women in the Pacific, especially given the higher participation of
women as paid workers and the resulting urgency for household and child-raising
functions to be divided up more equitably. There was a noted need for a shift
in perceptions about the customary role of men and women as well as "the need
for Pacific people to adopt aspects of culture and tradition which allow for
progression and not oppression." Finally, the widespread and escalating problem
of domestic violence throughout the Pacific was canvassed.60
During the same year, the Economic and Social Board (Comite Economique et
Sociale) ("CES") studied the problems which would be associated with the inclusion
of women into the political affairs of New Caledonia. The chief concern raised
was the dilemma of maintaining a comfortable balance between the dual responsibilities
of family and involvement in political affairs. They also canvassed the need
to keep women apprised of their rights and as a support mechanism for women
suffering domestic violence and abuse.61
In 2000, after an almost twenty year period of dormancy, the Women's Council
of New Caledonia was revived with the aim of ensuring the successful implementation
of parity for the municipal elections in 2001.62
The Women's Council acts as a federating body for all the women's associations
in the Territory. Members of the Women's Council are elected by the three federations
of women's associations in each province. Marie-Claire Becalossi, President
of the Women's Council, believes the aims of this federating body are in harmony
with the goals of the Noumea Accords in fostering greater unity amongst all
women in New Caledonia across ethnic lines. She was intent on ensuring all women
were fully informed (irrespective of their political opinions about parity and
had the opportunity to express their ideas).63
Significantly, in August 2003 the SPC's Pacific Women's Bureau held a training
workshop on human rights for New Caledonia. This organization was formed to
address women's development in New Caledonia, including education and health.
The workshop was intended to provide feedback on progress made in the South
Pacific region in implementing the provisions of the United Nations Convention
On The Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW"). The concepts of
gender and discrimination were evaluated in the New Caledonian context. The
prospects for greater participation by women in the political affairs of New
Caledonia as a result of the law on parity were addressed specifically. Other
issues discussed included domestic violence, tension between the various ethnic
communities in New Caledonia as well as human rights and its relationship to
both health and development. The delegates (consisting of 50 participants representing
individuals working on issues of education, health and women's development in
Government, the Provinces, the customary districts, non-governmental organizations
and religious communities) resolved to draw attention at the territorial level
to the need to train and educate women to lead healthier lives and foster a
greater understanding of the customary, legal and political systems operating
in New Caledonia. The need to set up a board to oversee the implementation of
the law on parity was set as an additional and separate priority at the territorial
level. It was also resolved that, at the provincial level, customary authorities
should be informed of delegates' concerns over the inability of customary norms
to manage certain contemporary problems, including those of widows without children,
domestic violence, the need for equal rights for illegitimate children, divorce,
assistance for handicapped persons, and the difficulty faced by women in conforming
to customary laws in a rapidly shifting environment.64
The History of Constitutional Reform in France
The constitutional change in France was the culmination of earlier, but unsuccessful
attempts, to achieve greater representation of women on political bodies in
France and the European Union. The feminist movement in France was instrumental
in supporting two earlier versions of the law on parity in 1980 and 1983. The
first Pelletier Bill successfully passed the National Assembly at the end of
1980 but languished before the presidential election. A second bill sponsored
by some feminists within the Socialist Party was passed overwhelmingly by the
National Assembly so that it could be implemented in the upcoming 1983 municipal
elections. This second bill was subsequently adjudged invalid by the Constitutional
Council in November 1982. The Council declared the law void on the basis that
it was contrary to Article 3 on National Sovereignty as well as Article 6 of
the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights, a provision in the French Constitution
providing for equality for women and men "in all domains."65
Though the earlier legislation was sponsored by socialist feminists, the actual
terms of these two earlier laws as well as the current law on parity are more
consistent with the views of moderate or liberal feminists in that these legislative
measures are really designed to achieve formal opportunities for gender equality
in the public sphere rather than mandating substantive outcomes that would guarantee
such gender parity. The bill on parity is merely aimed at improving the representation
of women in political bodies through the existing political system rather than
completely reforming the social system by remedying patriarchal structures and
divisions drawn on the basis of class and race.66
Reference to equality in the Preamble of the Constitution of 1946 as well
as other references to equality in the 1958 Constitution failed to provide a
guarantee of equal legal status and served as an insufficient basis upon which
to dispute laws drawing discriminatory classifications based on gender.67
The Constitutional Council in France, set up in 1958 during the French Republic,
has a much more restrictive role in passing on the constitutionality of legislative
actions than, for example, the United States Supreme Court. The role of the
Constitutional Council is restricted to merely judging the constitutionality
of recently enacted laws that have been referred to it specifically by political
leaders in the government. All other laws and numerous administrative rules
passed before 1958 are outside the purview of the Constitutional Council. This
severely constrains the ability of the Constitutional Council to pass upon the
constitutionality of the Napoleonic Code (which implicitly embraces a patriarchal
social system) and the multitude of other laws drawing distinctions based on
Due to these earlier unsuccessful attempts to pass laws similar to the law
on parity, there was no commanding or persuasive legal authority to support
For this reason, the debates in the Senate and the National Assembly leading
to the eventual adoption of the law on parity referred to no legal precedents.70
Lacking legal authority, the law's proponents made repeated oratorical references
to past French feminist heroines, such as Olympe de Gouges, the architect of
a 1791 Declaration on the Rights of Women.71
These repeated references were designed to provide an air of authenticity to
the proceedings by demonstrating that these women72
were courageous icons willing to undertake actions unauthorised in their time.73
Significantly, the debate on parity failed to make reference to France's international
legal obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women ("CEDAW").74
Contrasted with the struggle for the right of women to vote in 1945, the constitutional
reform resulting in the law on parity received widespread public support.75
Ideological Opposition to the Law on Parity
The constitutional reform in France did not sail smoothly through the legislative
chambers without at least some voiced dissent. Socialist Senator Robert Badinter
was the chief opponent of the law on parity. Senator Badinter previously served
as Minister of Justice and became notable for his staunch opposition to the
death penalty and his refusal to support any measures of affirmative action
or benign discrimination. He proclaimed the law on parity would destroy French
conventional conceptions of democracy based on "republican universalism" 76
by replacing it with dual notions of sovereignty "(one for men and one for women)."
77 A French
commentator contends the Senator's constant refusal to support any law on parity
because of its deleterious impact on the republican tradition reflects a certain
old-fashioned legalism that is familiar in aged democracies that lack the capacity
to engage in institutional changes.78
As previously noted, women failed to benefit from most of the rights recognized
after the French Revolution, especially the equal protection of the laws. This
right is considered one of the key precepts underlying the republican tradition
and yet many groups in France have failed to benefit from this right.79
Thus, the notion of a "republican universalism" has always been somewhat of
a myth for many groups in French constitutional history.80
The debate on parity led to, and reflected, differences even amongst feminists.
Adding to some of Senator Badinter's objections, in early 1999, some prominent
feminists asserted parity would result in a slippery slope, with other historically
marginalized minority groups in society insisting on equal representation on
the basis of other characteristics (eg. 'race, religion and sexual preference')
81 Others contended
the measure was offensive and unwarranted because demands from the public for
greater gender parity in politics would eventually come to be reflected in the
makeup of those representative bodies.82
Still others maintained the law on parity was not needed to enhance representative
democracy, provided publicly elected officials act to address the concerns of
the voters in their constituencies in passing laws and formulating policy.83
Ideological Support to the Law on Parity
Those favouring parity argued that there had been a failure to acknowledge
the invisibility of, and indifference to, women during much of the history of
the French Republic. The notion of universalism in the French Republican tradition
served to disguise differences between men and women. Publicly elected officials
were entrusted with representing their constituents by passing legislation addressing
the needs and concerns of their voters. Of course, this idealized vision of
universalism failed to mirror reality-- the under-representation of women historically
in French political institutions. In addition, the political parties in France
are hierarchical organizations that tend to be controlled by a small elite who,
in the past, have shown a disinterest in the institutionalization of democratic
practices that would ensure greater representation of women on candidate lists.
Moreover, many women lack the economic funds needed to run for political office.
These factors have all contributed to the noticeable absence of women from political
decision making in France.84
Notwithstanding the outdated arguments proffered by the opponents of the law
on parity, the constitutional measure was adopted overwhelmingly by the National
Assembly and the Senate in a joint sitting.85
The law implementing parity in New Caledonia received similar support.86
The constitutional reform is symbolically important in that it implicitly expunges
the historical invisibility of women in the annals of constitutional history
in France and New Caledonia. It also arguably signals a desire to rebalance
the historical under-representation of women in certain political bodies in
France and New Caledonia.
Opposition in New Caledonia to the Law on Parity
There was considerable resistance to the application of the law on parity to
New Caledonia arising mostly from the Kanak community. This section will chronicle
the political manoeuvres deployed by some Kanak male political leaders, the
executive committee of the largest Kanak political umbrella group - The Kanak
Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) - and the Customary Senate ("Senat
Coutumier") (which to date has no women serving on this consultative body) to
defer the application of the law on parity in New Caledonia. This historical
background is essential for gaining a fuller appreciation of the negative attitudes
women (especially Kanak women) encounter as they seek to achieve greater gender
parity in representation and influence in the political affairs of New Caledonia.
The arguments advanced in opposition to the immediate implementation of
parity revolved essentially around three central themes: (a) there was
an insufficient pool of qualified women to be placed on the party lists;
(b) the participation of Kanak women in the public and political arena
would have a destabilizing impact on Kanak society; and (c) the law on
parity represented a law imposed above by the colonial power that would
divert attention and resources away from the central Kanak goal of
achieving independence. Each of these justifications for opposing the
law on parity are addressed and deconstructed in a separate section to
illustrate the shakiness of the first two justifications and the
perspicacious nature of the third one.
The chronicle below demonstrates how these three central themes played out
in the media87
and facilitated gender unity across ethnic lines and the entire spectrum of
political parties. The story line of the resistance amongst Kanak men, customary
authorities and Kanak male political leaders and unity in the face of such defiance
in the pre-implementation period in New Caledonia strengthens the thesis that:
while gender is not a common attribute that will lead to pre-determined actions,
there are paramount issues over which women may unite in a common struggle at
particular historical moments, particularly in gaining access to the public
application of the law on parity was under threat in New Caledonia, women's
groups representing all ethnic groups and political ideologies united in support
of this law.89
Differences in class, culture, race, nationalism and as colonized peoples did
not preclude Kanak women's groups from forming a collective with European Western
Women's groups in support of the law.90
Resistance and Unity in New Caledonia
Former President of the Territorial Congress, Kanak Senator Simon Loueckhote91
of the Conservative Party-The Rally for New Caledonia with the French Republic
(RPCR) expressed his intent to present an amendment to the law on parity to
the French Senate on 29 February 2000 that would have postponed the introduction
of parity to 2009 for the provincial elections in New Caledonia and 2013 for
the municipal elections. The Senator expressed the opinion that New Caledonia
was not ready for parity, particularly in the Northern Province and the Loyalty
Islands (Kanak controlled regions) where the majority of the population is Kanak
and subject to native custom.92
His objections implied the law on parity would have a destabilizing impact on
custom and Kanak culture and that there were not enough qualified women to serve
on the electoral lists and/or in elective office.
His plans were opposed by the leaders of his own party (the RPCR), including
Jacques Lafluer and businesswoman Marie-Noelle Themereau93
Mme. Themereau expressed her astonishment and strong disapproval of Senator
Loueckhote's attitude: "This is a rear-guard action which displays reactionary
thinking. I said that I would resign if he tabled this amendment."94
Mme. Themereau subsequently left the RPCR and formed her own party ("Avenir
Ensemble") The Future Together.95
This party carried almost 23% of the vote in the 2004 Provincial elections,
thereby securing 16 of the 54 seats in the Territorial Congress.96
Kanak women were also astonished by Senator Loueckhote's position. Leo Varnier,
President of the Commission for Women in the Northern Province, made it clear
that New Caledonian women did not share his opinion at all: "New Caledonian
women, both Kanaks and other ethnic groups, are not second-rate French women...This
amendment is shocking, especially coming from a Kanak man who is supposed to
set an example. Mr. Loueckhote is a public figure, an educated and cultivated
man. If he speaks like that, how will the small tribal chiefs think differently?
I would like to know which women are not ready. Loueckhote's opinion is his
The Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) Councillor,
Bernard Lepeu, wrote an open letter to Loueckhote: "Your arguments
display a total ignorance of the place held by women in our society, in
particular Kanak women."
Lepeu referred to the narrow-minded thinking of the RPCR for whom the "massive
introduction of women in New Caledonian politics would disturb a smooth-running
machine." Lepeu stated that he "is looking forward to the quality, diversity,
and sensitivity of future debates, since women have often shown their ability
to disregard party lines in order to get to the crux of the matter." He expressed
regret with Loueckhote's reactionary attitude which "tarnishes democratic debate
in our country." 98
Senator Loueckhote replied to Msr. Lepeu's open letter with a firm rebuke:
"I very much appreciate the fact that an FLNKS member has finally
given an opinion on this subject, and that the value of the active participation
of women in politics has been recognized. Up till now the FLNKS has never given
the impression that they wanted to allow women and especially Melanesian women
their rightful place. What I appreciate even more is Lepeu's homage to the Republic
of France, the country of human rights, the rights of both men and women. He
recognizes that our country, France, the country of human rights, the rights
of both men and women. He recognizes that our country, France, is the guarantor
of the founding principles of democracy, equality and non-discrimination. Lepeu
wants the law voted by the French Parliament to be implemented in New Caledonia
without any exception. I am very pleased that the FLNKS opinion is so close
to the RPCR's."99
The RPCR refused to be associated with Loueckhote's position.
Jacques Lafleur asserted that he was already talking about the role of women
in the RPCR party lists as early as April 1999, saying that women would have
"the necessary qualities to further our forward-looking policies of openness
and progress." 100
Senator Loueckhote's position was similarly rejected by Didier Leroux's
Alliance Party. Jean-Pierra Aifa, elected representative of the Alliance
Party and member of the Executive Committee of the Territorial Congress
"Why should New Caledonia be the only region of the Republic
where parity in the lists of candidates for the municipal elections is not enforced?...As
President of the Congress Simon Loueckhote received a letter from the government
dated 29 October 1999, informing him of the bill on parity. He was to organize
a debate. He had time enough...But the President didn't want a public debate.
He wanted it to be a personal matter..."101
The Generation Caledonienne party was also in full support of
the law on parity and expressed the hope that it would be applied in New Caledonia.
The executive committee of this party issued a press release "regret[ting] that
it is necessary to have a law to impose the principle of parity" but recognized
that "sometimes you need legislation when society has difficulty getting rid
of prejudices...Allowing women to have as much influence as men on the development
of society will have a civilizing effect. Parity is of particular importance
in a country which is working towards liberation. There is no valid reason why
women should be excluded in New Caledonia."102
Cesar Qenegei, a Customary authority, said Senator Loueckhote's position was entirely misunderstood:
"Simon is a thoughtful man, logical and honest. He never said
that Melanesian women do not have the necessary qualities to participate in
governing the territory; he never said that they are not capable of reflection
and making important decisions. He is worried about imposing a large number
of women in the next elections, because that will disturb the whole Melanesian
society...We want women to participate in political bodies with dignity. We
want them to be worthy of representing their families, clans, their people.
In order that they can cope with these responsibilities, they must have some
training in politics. We don't want those who are experienced to make fun of
them. This has actually happened in some assemblies and committees. This is
why Simon wanted the application of the law to be postponed. It was not because
he looks down on women, but because he respects them...For the Islands alone
44 women will have to be found for the three districts, the province and the
Congress. It's worse in the North and in the South. They will have to be chosen,
and trained quickly so that they will be good speakers and efficient decision-makers
in the future." 103
The statements of this Customary authority suggest a concern
over an insufficient number of qualified Kanak women to be placed on the electoral
lists and serve in the relevant political bodies.
Senator Loueckhote subsequently introduced a more modest amendment to
the Senate in France requesting that the law on parity should be applied
to in New Caledonia after the municipal elections in 2001. He did not
resile entirely from his earlier position because he thought that the
law would not be able to be practically applied for the municipal
elections of 2001:
"It would be enormously difficult to find the same number of
women as men for the lists. This amendment is a matter of common sense. My experience
in the Provincial elections in May showed me that it would be difficult to apply
the law in areas where the population is predominantly Melanesian...There are
20,000 inhabitants in the Islands. For the provincial elections we had to form
lists of 20 names. I had tremendous problems finding four women who would agree
to be on the lists. Take also the example of the municipal elections in Ouvea?
There are only 2,600 voters. How could we find 14 or 15 women to put on each
list? It's practically impossible...If we apply the law on parity in 2007 we
will have six years to convince them. That seems more reasonable and certainly
Kanak women were especially upset with Senator Loueckhote's more modest amendment.
Mme. Francoise Caillard, President of the Association of Women Citizens, issued
a press release which stated in relevant part:
"Simon Loueckhote says that women in Ouvea will not be ready
for the municipal elections in 2001. The proof, he says, is that he had difficulty
in finding women for his list in the last provincial elections. Here are some
questions: Why, among all the male politicians, is he is the only one to voice
this view? Are the Ouvea women the only women who are backward intellectually
and socially? Some answers by way of further questions: Is Simon Loueckhote
perhaps a male chauvinist? Could it be that he scares away women because of
his authoritarian and intolerant personality? If Simon Loueckhote were not the
first on the list, perhaps it would be easier to find women candidates? It may
be that it is Simon Loueckhote who is the problem, not the women in Ouvea, not
women in the Islands, not Kanak women."105
Women's groups representing all ethnicities and political beliefs
joined to form a collective in favour of parity. Determined to ensure the airing
of their opinions, the movement of the Women in Arms (Femmes en colere) announced
an offensive against all obstacles to obtaining their basic rights:
"Men are afraid to lose their power. That's understandable,
but they have to accept change...In the end, it's because of Simon Loueckhote
that we have rallied together to undertake joint action. We are certainly not
going to thank him though." 106
A member of Women in Arms, Sylvie Robineau further stated:
"We will no longer let men speak on behalf...Now that women
from all backgrounds and ethnic groups are united, we are going to fight hard
for women's basic rights to be respected in New Caledonia...For years we've
been waiting for parity to come about democratically but nothing happened. At
last this law is going to help us. We really need it."107
The collective registered a strong reaction when the implementation
of parity in the Territory was under threat. A group of women organized a rally
in the Place des Cocotiers on 8 March 2000 to protest against the "arbitrary
and unilateral decision" of Senator Loueckhote concerning parity of the lists
of candidates for elections. That date coincided with International Women's
Day. A collective of women from all ethnic backgrounds and of all political
persuasions were scheduled to speak, echoing their sentiments that their rights
have been ignored. They also circulated a petition demanding the application
of parity in New Caledonia which was subsequently sent to the Minister of the
Interior, Jean-Pierre Chevenement on 22 March 2000.108
After celebration of International Women's Day, a spokesman of the Kanak political
umbrella group FLNKS issued a Press release calling into question the support
of his party's executive committee towards the law on parity. It was opposed
on the basis that it was a colonially imposed regime that risked the implementation
of other forms of parity. FLNKS spokesman, Victor Tutugoro, stated in pertinent
"The FLNKS executive committee recognizes that a lot of women
have important positions, particularly in the management of public affairs.
Moreover, the FLNKS have always been concerned about the presence of women on
its lists. These women have been chosen for the strength of their convictions,
their commitment as activists, and their ability to undertake the work required.
By imposing parity through the role of alternation on lists of candidates, the
French Parliament runs the risk of rejecting any other mind of expression of
parity. The FLNKS executive committee regrets that some political leaders wish
that the law on parity should apply ipso facto in our country, thus challenging
the aims of decolonization and self-government embodied in the Noumea accord."109
Some viewed the apparent double flip by the FLNKS executive committee
as evidence of an attempt to sidestep the issue of parity in the name of decolonization.
As one journalist commented:
"Are independence movement politicians afraid of a huge increase
in the number of women in politics, or are they simply worried that they won't
be able to find enough women for their municipal lists? Given the dissensions,
women have some way to go before being accepted. The law on parity should give
them a boost." 110
The Customary Senators also expressed concern to the author that
the law on parity would have a destabilizing impact on Kanak society.111
The executive committee of the Women Citizens of Noumea expressed disgust by the FLNKS press release:
"For us the law on parity is a crucial step in the long history
of democratic progress ensuring that women and men will have the same rights.
We don't see why self-government should be limited to men and not involve women
who have the most important role in families, tribes, districts, and associations.
To argue that Kanak women lack maturity today is in contradiction with the decolonization
movement which began in 1946 when both Kanak men and women were recognized as
citizens and given the right to vote. The sudden friendliness between politicians
from RPCR to the FLNKS seems to display electioneering concerns."112
There was angry reaction registered as well by Melanesian women
that parity should be opposed because Kanak women in particular were not ready
to enter politics. Marie-Pierre Coyetche, a member of the Women in Arms, stated:
"They are wondering which of them is going to leave his place to a woman...They
have taken us to be incompetent or incapable for too long. It's time that men
let us express ourselves. For years Melanesian women have been involved in politics
in Associations. They work in the field and just because they are discreet does
not mean that they have nothing to say." 113
Kanak political leader Nicole Waia, an elected member of the Territorial Congress
and a member of the FLNKS, advanced a similar argument: "Men must stop thinking
of us as enemies. We can help them because we are complementary. We have ideas
and competence and we want to serve the community." 114
Ms. Waia made some further comments in the Congress concerning the failure
to debate the merits of the law on parity. She prefaced her remarks by saying
she did not have ill feelings towards Simon Loueckhote. She also said she regretted
that parity had not been discussed in the Congress when the High Commissioner
had requested the opinion of Congress in October 1999. Since then the issue
had not been placed on the debate agenda even though Simon Loueckhote's dual
positions as President of the Congress and Senator should have motivated him
to "call on councillors and the New Caledonian populations to get their opinion."115
Waia then addressed the Senator directly: "Instead of doing that you used
your national mandate to free yourself from your responsibilities as political
representative of our country. I am convinced that if the debate had taken place
here in the Congress, it would not have taken place in the street and women
would not have been humiliated by your action." 116
Waia said she understood the Senator's concerns, which such concerns were
shared by members of the community. Nevertheless, she developed some counter-arguments:
"I think that parity should be something which is self-evident, and should not
need to be imposed by law. But if it is humiliating for women that they need
a law in order for their rights to be recognized, it is even more humiliating
for men that thus far they have not implemented the democratic idea of equality.
After waiting for 60 years, we are obliged to have recourse to a law. I want
us to have a debate. If there really is a majority in favour of non-implementation
of the law, so be it."117
Waia then addressed her pro-independence movement colleagues: "In what way
would parity between men and women hinder the decolonization process? For me,
decolonization must consist of change and progress. Women are not asking for
favours, only equality, true equality. The discretion and reserve of some women
should not be interpreted as unwillingness to participate or as incompetence."
Women in New Caledonia were ultimately successful. The many antagonistic reactions
to his proposed deferral of implementation of the law on parity persuaded Senator
Loueckhote to change his mind and not table his amendment.119
During a visit to Dakar for the presidential elections in Senegal, Senator Loueckhote
said it was necessary to raise the question of an amendment to provoke a healthy
"I wanted to spark a debate in order to get to know the opinions of New
Caledonians and of women in particular. I would like to thank women who debated
the issue apart from those who were only interested in threatening me. I have
noted carefully the various opinions. I am thoroughly convinced as are my colleagues
in RPCR that women can make a real contribution to democratic debate and to
the future development of New Caledonia120
Conclusions about the Historical Storyline in New Caledonia
Several conclusions can be drawn from the historical storyline of resistance
to the implementation of parity in New Caledonia and the unity amongst all women's
groups in the face of such resistance.
Women experience life at the crossroads of gender and other categories
of experience. For example, Kanak women experience life at the
"intersection" of gender and other features of their background (eg.
marital status, age, sexual orientation, disability, culture and as
Classifying women on the basis of their attributes and experiences in
life is helpful in acquiring a greater overall appreciation of the
diverse factors shaping their subjectivities.122
Chris Weedon refers to "subjectivity..[as] the conscious and
unconscious thoughts and emotions of the individual, her sense of
herself and her ways of understanding her relation to the world."123
Each category is helpful in comprehending the various aspects of
subordination affecting particular categories of women, such as third
The experiences of Kanak women have differed dramatically from those of
European women and women representing other ethnicities (eg. Wallisians,
Vietnamese, Indonesians) who have migrated to New Caledonia in response
to prompting by the French government, particularly in the last half
Kanak women have experienced life in New Caledonia as a largely
invisible subordinated underclass of colonized peoples who have been
subjected to racism and capitalism. This explains why feminism has come
to be experienced by, and reflected in the subjectivities of, many Kanak
women as a discourse that fails to address aspects of their experiences
supplementary to gender. Many Kanak women acknowledge the importance of
gender parity in political decision making because of the different
voice of women. Nevertheless, some of their narratives denounce the
feminist label and reject any identification with a wider women's
movement. Feminism has been successfully portrayed as an attack on the
central tenets of Kanak culture and 'traditional' customary practices in
a variety of conventional and customary foras, including: (a) the clan;
(b) social structures and other social groups formed by the colonial
administrative apparatus to exert control over Kanak society, including
the artificially created tribe, the administratively appointed Customary
Chiefs and Customary Senators; (c) the church; (d) the education
system; and (e) through representations in the media. The nationalist
movement has perceived feminism as a rival in the struggle to end
colonialism and achieve independence. As in other colonial contexts,
feminism has also come to be experienced by indigenous women as a
discourse linked to the colonial process that has privileged white
middle-class women and deprived indigenous peoples of
The rejection of the feminist label is prevalent in many, though not all,
of the narratives of Kanak women (even amongst those who support the law on
parity). Two prime examples of such negative associations are exemplified in
the narratives of Nicole Waia (Appendix A.1.5) and Marie-Adele
Joredie (Appendix A.1.6). On the other hand, not all Kanak
women political leaders are so dismissive of the feminist label. For example,
Dewe Gorodey, Vice President of the New Caledonian Territorial Assembly, recognises
the derogatory link that has been drawn with the 'feminist label' and the importance
of the global feminist movement in securing basic rights for women that are
presently taken for granted, such as the right to vote. (Appendix
The discourse on nationalism and independence has also impacted on the subjectivities of Kanak women. Mme. Paul-Tourte, (Appendix A.1.8)
a lawyer with the Tjibaou Cultural Center, explained to the author the
ways in which the discourse on nationalism and independence has shaped
understandings of feminism and negatively shaped the subjectivities of
Kanak women. The high priorities given to the nationalist movement and
to political party affiliation by Kanak women play a strong role in
trumping the interests of women. Dewe Gorodey (Appendix A.1.9)
has also emphasized that political party affiliation has affected
women's loyalties. Nonetheless, she explains that unity amongst all
women in New Caledonia in support of parity was necessary as a means of
successfully addressing problems specific to women. Her comments suggest
the female voice is very important for all women in New Caledonia as a
safety measure to ensure the institutions of government address issues
of concern to all women in the territory (eg. domestic violence, alcohol
abuse, rape, incest, unemployment and female autonomy). A real sense of
solidarity emerged amongst all women's groups in the debate on parity
in geographically isolated New Caledonia. Notwithstanding differences in
class, race, nationalism, culture and as a colonized peoples, all
women's groups in New Caledonia united in support of the law on parity.126
Thus, the above story line attests to the notion that while gender is not
a common attribute that will lead to pre-determined actions, there are overriding
issues over which most women may unite at particular stages in history, particularly
in gaining access to the public arena.127
Women's groups representing all backgrounds and political beliefs joined forces
in a united front in the face of Senator Loueckhote's amendment and proposed
deferral of applying the law on parity in New Caledonia. Significantly, even
the executive committee of the leading Kanak umbrella group (FLNKS) expressed
doubts over the wisdom of immediate implementation because it might divert resources
and attention away from the central Kanak goal of achieving independence. In
a rather remarkable split within the Kanak community, Kanak women protested
vehemently to any suggestion of a deferral of implementation. Georgina Waylen
has accurately characterised this phenomenon of unity amongst women seeking
access to the public arena:
"Most of the activities involve entering the public sphere and either
making demands or acting collectively, whether on a national, local or
community based level. This kind of action therefore entails the
politicization of the private sphere and entry into the public sphere on
that basis. The participant's gender therefore becomes a fundamental
part of this type of political activity, as the fact of their being
women is a central part of the action. This can involve using
'traditional' social roles for oppositional purposes and also
challenging and subverting these roles."128
Deconstructing the Opposition to Parity in New Caledonia
There were essentially three justifications offered for deferring the law on
parity. This section demonstrates that the first two justifications were specious,
whereas the third justification has proven remarkably insightful.
Lack of Qualified Women?
The principal opponent to immediate implementation was Senator Loueckhote (and
several Customary authorities) on the basis that there were insufficient numbers
of qualified Kanak women to be placed on party lists for the electoral bodies
to which the law on parity applied. This justification was patronizing and humiliating
to many Kanak women. Most Kanak women leaders viewed the lack of qualified candidates
justification as merely a cover to deny women access to participating in the
political process. Mme. Dewe Gorodey, Vice President of New Caledonia, participated
in a direct debate with Senator Loueckhote about the merits of the law on parity.
She emphatically rejected his view that the implementation should be deferred
because there were insufficient numbers of Kanak women capable of holding political
"I told him that if he had only four women on his list for the
provincial elections, it was because he had not prepared the women in his party.
I said that just because he could only find four women for his list, it was
not a reason not to impose his amendment to all women in the Territory. In fact
the law on parity will encourage us to prepare women to take up a place in politics.
I suggested to the Senator that he should give up his amendment and instead
prepare the women in his party for the coming elections. [His idea] comes from
[a] sexist, traditionalist, conservative way of thinking." 129
Indeed, the suggestion that Kanak women were reluctant to serve
in elected positions was not reflected in the actual municipal 2001 elections
and the more recent provincial elections in 2004. There was a highly qualified
pool of eager women who served as candidates on full party lists presented to
the public. Almost 47% of those elected in the provincial elections were women
(36 women and 40 men). As previously mentioned, this is the first time in the
post-contact period in New Caledonia that two women have been elected to serve
in the two most powerful positions in the executive government.130
This created a stir amongst senior male members of Mme. Themereau's former party,
the RPCR. They seemed stunned, angry and initially unwilling to accept that
one of their former members led the list of candidates of her newly formed party
Avenir Ensemble to successfully defeat the RPCR in getting elected to the most
powerful post in New Caledonia. It seems the public was tired of the same men
dominating the political affairs of the territory. The results suggested the
public was ready for new leadership. The public demonstrated a willingness to
accept Mme. Themereau and Avenir Ensemble as a forward looking party willing
to try to achieve greater harmony amongst all ethnic groups in New Caledonia
in the spirit of the Noumea Accords.131
Destabilizing Impact on Kanak Society?
Customary authorities and Kanak male political leaders argued that the law
on parity would undermine customary authority structures.132
The author maintains that this justification for opposing the law on parity
is without merit. Custom forms Kanak identity, and the law of parity is merely
a political measure in the European community which has no relationship to custom
in the Kanak community. Customary practice is often tilted in favour of those
who maintain more powerful positions within indigenous society. It is often
merely a reflection of power hierarchies within indigenous society. Custom can
therefore be used as a cover for reinforcing oppressive gender roles.133
Custom has in this instance been invoked to disguise the unwillingness of Kanak
men to surrender the political power they have been able to garner in the colonial
establishment. Both Dewe Gorodey (Appendix A.1.10) and Marie-Adele Joredie (Appendix
A.1.11) have emphasized these points.
In her book, Gender in Third World Politics, Georgina Waylen has noted the
colonial process is not simply a clash between the forces of "tradition and
Such characterisations are overly simplistic. Much of what is considered "tradition"
or "custom" has been concocted between the colonizing power and an indigenous
patriarchy often in an intricate and paradoxical way.135
Mme. Marie-Paule Tourte (Appendix A.1.12), a mixed-race
Kanak/Caldoche, who is a lawyer at the Tjibaou Cultural Center as well as a
member of Femmes Citoyennes (Union of Women Citizens of New Caledonia), has
also touched on these same themes and explained to the author why reliance on
custom as a justification for opposing gender parity in politics fails to withstand
As previously pointed out in the historical storyline of the debates in
New Caledonia, most women supported parity because of the importance of
the female voice in representative decision-making. See Statement of
Mme. Tesser (Appendix A.1.13) The importance of the
female voice has been emphasized by Kanak women political leaders as
well. One feminist methodology has been identified as consciousness
Weedon contends personal problems experienced by women are often the
result of communally fabricated arrangements suitable to upholding the
existing division of labour based on gender, along with specific
standards concerning womanliness roles, both of which serve to continue
the cycle of socially produced female inferiority in relation to men.
Consciousness raising helps women recognize they share many of the same
communally fabricated personal dilemmas.137
Sharing their personal experiences helps the slow process of breaking
down the historical dominant discourse about the unsuitability of women
for public office.138 A local councillor and Vice-President of the Cicari Paici-Camuki Association, Cecile Waka (Appendix A.1.14),
maintains that the method of consciousness-raising has already been
introduced in some tribes. She believes the law on parity will
facilitate the consideration of the female voice and result in greater
recognition of Kanak women's roles and responsibilities in conventional
and contemporary society. In an interview with the leading newspaper in
New Caledonia Les Nouvelles Caledonniennes, Mme. Nicole Waia (Appendix A.1.15)
has also stressed the importance of the female voice in generating an
alternative and equally important perspective and contribution in
political decision making in New Caledonia.
Mr. Tonya (Appendix A.1.16), the founder of the Independence
Radio Station, Radio Didjou (and the current Executive Director of the Tjibaou
Cultural Centre), discussed with the author the evolving contemporary roles
of Kanak women outside the historical domestic arena. These changing roles have
been supported through the various established women's associations. Mr. Tonya
contends Kanaks have been successful in reaching a harmonious balance between
women's historical roles in Kanak society and newly acquired roles representing
contemporary Western society. His remarks amply support the assumption of political
roles in the European community by Kanak women, which such roles are capable
of co-existing with and adapting to their conventional roles in Kanak society.
However, not all commentators agree that customary traditions can so easily
be accommodated with Western notions of individualism. Other commentators contend
the constant tension between customary and contemporary society is likely to
remain in the future. The blitz of Western values and discourse is likely to
lead to the steady erosion of customary traditions.139
Kanak women entering the public arena will pay a price for such
involvement not only because of the greater pressure on their time.140
More importantly, Kanak women will no doubt experience the constant
tension resulting from trying to adapt dual identities, individual and
collective. Individualism is inherently inconsistent in world view with
the notion of communalism. It remains to be seen how Kanak women will
adjust to such changes. Kanak men have experienced an awkward adjustment
to the assumption of such dual identities. There is no valid
explanation of which the author is aware for the conclusion that Kanak
women will experience more severe complications than men in the
adjustment to these dual identities (collective and individual). Indeed,
they might perform on the local and provincial level in greater harmony
with their customary duties. See Statement of Marie-Claire Beccalossi,
President of the Federation of Melanesian Women's Associations (Appendix
Colonially Imposed Legal Regime Undermining Independence?
The final argument offered by some Kanak men, including the executive committee
of the FLNKS, was that parity was a colonial law not emanating from the Kanak
community. Such a legal regime imposed from above would divert resources and
attention away from the principal Kanak goal of achieving independence.141
Kanak leader Mr. Tonya, Executive Director of the Tjibaou Cultural Center, (Appendix
A.1.18 ) made such assertions to the author. Gayatri Spivak has insightfully
pointed out in Selected Subaltern Studies, a series of essays deconstructing
the capitalist narrative of change in relation to the colonial experience in
India: "discursive displacements wittingly or unwittingly operated from above
are also failures." 142 This justification for
opposing the law on parity proved to be remarkably insightful.
It is clear that the Kanak nationalist movement for independence
persists to a much lesser extent than in the 1980s. The Matignon Accords
of 1990 and the more recent Noumea Accords have been instrumental in
largely neutralizing the demands of the nationalist movement for
immediate independence.143 Marie-Adele Joredie (Appendix A.1.19)
frankly shared with the author her doubts about the wisdom of entering
into an agreement that merely defers the possibility of
self-determination for an additional thirty years. Independence is no
longer seriously discussed in the territory as a potential future option
(even amongst Kanaks who are willing to speak frankly).144
The Noumea Accords provide for a staged devolution of power from France to
New Caledonia and recognize the possibility of achieving full emancipation at
the end of the twenty-year period to 2018. Emancipation in the Agreement means
only the possibility of associated statehood for all communities living in New
Neither of the Agreements contains any language pertaining to self-determination
or independence. New Caledonia remains inscribed as one of sixteen territories
on the list of non-self-governing territories with the UN Decolonization Committee.146
These Agreements have certainly muted UN criticism over developments in the
territory. However, France continues to resist its international legal obligations
by failing to transmit information pursuant to 73(e) of the U.N. Charter regarding
New Caledonia's political and economic situation to the Secretary-General. In
addition, France has always remained adamant that any referendum on the future
status of the territory would not take place under the supervision of the United
Moreover, the likelihood of a true exercise of self-determination
remains more remote than ever before. One commentator has persuasively
reasoned that the international law rules regulating self-determination
have failed to enhance self-determination of indigenous peoples,
particularly in territories where they have been consigned to a minority
of the population in the interests of development (e.g. mining
development in New Caledonia).148
This is precisely what happened in the New Caledonian context. As Kanak
demands for independence intensified, France vigorously pursued a
policy of encouraging new migrants to the territory to feed a growing
nickel mining industry and render the possibility of securing
independence through democratic means increasingly difficult as Kanaks
were relegated to minority status in their own country. Indeed, the then
French Prime Minister of Overseas Territories specifically directed
this policy to be implemented at an accelerated pace to quell the
prospects for Kanaky independence through the ballot box.149
Aside from failing to assist indigenous peoples achieve independence,
contemporary internationally accepted norms regarding self-determination
will not ensure that gender inequality will be redressed. The
successful exercise of a right of external self-determination does not
necessarily represent greater opportunities for women to be involved in
formulating policy. Indeed, in many colonial and 'post-colonial'
contexts, women are often denied the opportunities to participate in the
political and economic affairs to the same extent as men. Many national
liberation movements, such as Iran, have failed to integrate any
demands for the liberation of women, not to mention an evaluation or
understanding of women's issues. It is, therefore, not surprising that
national liberation often fails to liberate women.150
This explains why many feminists are not enthusiastic about the extent
to which the international rules regulating self-determination will
address structures of male domination and female subordination. Indeed,
many feminists might view the colonial and 'post-colonial' era as
nothing more than an exercise in supplanting traditional oppressive
structures of domination and subordination with other novel forms of
Thus, token tinkering with gender representation in political bodies
instituted by France (while not insignificant) will not meaningfully
remedy the range and modes of oppression faced by Kanak women. It is
arguable from a consideration of the breadth of attributes and
experiences fashioning the subjectivities of Kanak women, that the law
on parity, a formal colonially imposed legal mechanism,152
will not produce consequential change for Kanak women. More fundamental
changes in addressing the problems of racism, colonialism and
socio-economic inequalities are also needed to free Kanak women from all
of the manacles of customary and colonial domination and oppression.
Nonetheless, at the very least, the greater representation of women
makes it possible for a broader array of female voices to be heard.
Perhaps perspicaciously, criticism over parity because of its potential
to create divisions within the Kanak community and the wider
independence movement has proven remarkably accurate. As discussed
previously, all Kanak women's groups vehemently disputed the position of
Senator Loueckhote as well as the comments against parity made by the
executive committee of the FLNKS. This may explain in part the failure
of the pro-independence parties to present unified lists of candidates
in both the 1999 municipal elections as well as the more recent May 2004
For example, in the 1989 elections, 20 electoral lists were presented
in sharp distinction to the 31 electoral lists presented in the 2004
elections. The lack of unity in the nationalist independence movement
has been accounted for by several factors, including, without
limitation, an inability to agree on policy
One such policy issue could have been implementation of the law on
parity. In the 1999 Provincial elections, six representatives of the
pro-independence parties were successful in securing seats in the
Southern Province. All six candidates lost their positions in the 2004
provincial elections. There are now no pro-independence parties even
represented in the Southern Provincial Assembly.155
As Maclellan has observed, the results of the 2004 Provincial elections
reflect that greater rifts now exist within particular ethnic
communities (presumably including the Kanak community) than in the past.156
Other commentators view the election results as a demonstration of
support for autonomy for New Caledonia rather than Kanaky independence
or integration with France.157
There is a general recognition amongst much of the New Caledonian
population that emancipation alluded to in the Agreement is "a
convenient guise for maintaining more than a century-old colonial
Recent events in New Caledonia have been cited by Western historians as evidence
of the trepidation and conflict resulting from attempts to transition towards
greater autonomy in the territory. The approval of a nickel mining project in
the Goro region in the South has stirred up resistance from the Kanak community.
There have also been periodic instances of violence since 2001 between Kanaks
and migrants to the territory from Futuna and Wallis in connection with some
land currently occupied by a Catholic missionary establishment at a town in
close proximity to the capital (Ave Maria in St. Louis). Even well intended
attempts to reach out across ethnic lines have failed to resolve underlying
resentment amongst the Kanak community. It was proposed that a totem pole constructed
by Kanaks be placed on the Place des Cocotiers on the 150th anniversary of French
annexation of New Caledonia. Jean Leques, the Mayor of Noumea, refused to allow
the installation of the totem pole on the basis that it was not in conformity
with the surrounding architecture. He suggested instead that it be placed in
a patio in a building constructed by the Southern Province. Kanaks found this
suggestion insulting and degrading.159
Other suggestions were made for placement of the totem pole but the entire confrontation
prompted some commentators to suggest: "Hardly born, already mummified!"160
This episode is a very graphic illustration of the tensions that persist
to the present day between the white caldoche population and the
indigenous population, which such tensions have been percolating below
the surface since the Matignon/Noumea Accords were signed to avert the
escalation of conflict to an all out civil war.
There are currently significant divisions within the independence
movement (arguably brought about in part by the law on parity), and
major differences among the anti-independence forces. It is possible
that the greater representation (and hopefully influence) of women on
local and provincial bodies in New Caledonia will produce more
meaningful dialogue between these clashing factions. Kanak leader Dewe
Gorodey (Appendix A.1.21) emphasized recently in an
interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the
post-Noumea period offers greater prospects for reconciliation.
Contrasting Debates in France and New Caledonia
As previously recounted, the debate on parity in France did not parallel the
debate in New Caledonia. The storyline in France was one of resistance (from
some feminists and many men in the institutionalized bureaucratic political
establishment) accompanied by fairly widespread public acceptance. Public opinion
surveys conducted prior to the March 2001 municipal elections indicate that
two thirds of voters in France were receptive to having a woman in the position
of mayor. Well over half (60%) registered their understanding and agreement
that greater representation of women in municipal bodies would enhance the aims
of representative democracy.161
Women in France, for the most part, supported parity. However, debate on the
law in France produced some splits amongst some women and men, particularly
those within the socialist wing of the feminist movement (even though the reform
measures on gender parity in politics were introduced into the legislative chamber,
and historically supported. by the Socialist Party in France). Thus, there was
considerably more resistance amongst women to application of the law on parity
in France than New Caledonia. There has traditionally been a devoted alliance
between French feminists and the political left. Some French feminists might
have been apprehensive about aligning themselves with men and women representing
the right wing of the political spectrum, most of whom also supported parity.162
Some socialist feminists in France were obviously unmoved by the law on parity
on ideological grounds. They viewed with scepticism the law on parity as a mechanism
for fundamentally re-fashioning gender roles and relationships in the public
sphere on a more equitable basis. Given the relatively greater size and population
in metropolitan France as well as great diversity in the feminist movement (reflecting
all strands of feminist theory from liberal or moderate to radical and socialist),
it was harder to prompt discipline and loyalty amongst women's groups in France
in relation to the law on parity.
Though there have historically been highly charged political differences
between women's groups in the Southern Province (where the majority of
the population are caldoche-white settlers) and the Northern Province
and the Loyalty Islands (where most people are Kanaks), a greater sense
of camaraderie developed to support parity. The importance of female
voices in having issues of concern to all women in New Caledonia
addressed (eg. domestic violence, rape, incest, alcohol abuse, female
autonomy and unemployment) was considered highly important and seems to
have been a major factor in forging unity amongst women's groups in this
relatively small populated geographically isolated territory. The
feminist movement in New Caledonia is, for the most part, nonexistent.
There is only one group that has publicly linked itself with feminism
and this group has been subjected to criticism and ridicule from other
women's groups in New Caledonia. As established earlier in this piece,
many women in New Caledonia (especially Kanak women) shun any
association with feminism or a larger Women's Liberation Movement. Their
narratives suggest support for parity was not based on ideological
identification with feminism. Rather, it suggests pragmatic unity to
enhance the airing of female voices on representative bodies as well as
deal with a colonial legacy of invisibility of most women (especially
Kanak women) in the public and political arena. (See Narratives in Appendix A)
Waylen accurately points out that some women's movements seek to defend the
existing state of affairs while others try to alter the political status quo.
So, for example, white women born in New Caledonia or France who live for the
most part in the Southern Province, are generally anti-independence with some
favouring some form of autonomy and others favouring continued association with
France. On the other hand, most Kanak women have struggled with Kanak men against
the colonial order in search of independence. These Kanak women have favoured
Kanak nationalism and independence from France even though there is no guarantee
such a transformation would alter gender hierarchy in the Kanak community. Waylen
contends that political parties provide assurances to women of diverse socio-economic
classes and offer them support partially through suggesting specific distinct
roles in family affairs and sexual matters as well as a religious base.163
Waylen explains that these diverse networks possibly correspond with distinct
types of 'patriarchal bargain' with each network offering specific conventions
and varying stratagems for increasing women's sense of feeling secure and enhancing
their choices in life. This helps clarify the sometimes seemingly incongruous
actions of women that facially appear to be at variance with their long-standing
interests. Waylen describes this phenomenon as the 'patriarchal bargain' since
women forfeit what might appear to be their long-standing interests in favour
of greater shelter from men. These situations are most likely to take place
where the alternatives seem less attractive and less likely to enhance the power
This type of patriarchal bargain may help explain two phenomena in New
Caledonia. First, it might explain why almost all women in New Caledonia
have supported the law on parity. The law on parity arguably seemed to
be a more attractive alternative to continued association with male
dominated political parties. More importantly, it might also account for
why some Kanak women have (while supporting parity) also placed equal,
if not more, emphasis on Kanak nationalism and securing independence
than on achievement of greater gender parity through representation in
elected positions created by the colonial power.
As discussed later in this article, these differences in the debates in France
and New Caledonia may have forecast that facially similar laws on parity would
yield different results. The initial lack of unity amongst women in France may
be one factor in a complex mix (amongst several others including differences
in population numbers, geographical location and size as well as distinctive
historical, cultural, political and social factors) that help explain why the
facially similar laws on parity applied in different contexts produced disparate
impacts in France and New Caledonia. The eventual triumph in implementing the
law on parity in France and New Caledonia reveals the historically dominant
discourse marginalizing women in public and political affairs has been effectively
challenged by the version of political and social relations this law implicitly
fosters. As previously noted, the new discourse generated by the law on parity
might encourage changes in the way society in France and New Caledonia view
the role of women in public and political affairs. Prompted by the law on parity,
the historically dominant discursive views about the previously largely invisible
role of women in the public sphere has the potential to create a more robust
public profile and with such heightened profile the possibility for women to
exert greater political influence.165
Thus, the law on parity is an important emblematic symbol in that it
represents a potential shift in power and control over institutions of
government and implicitly expunges the historical invisibility of women
in the annals of constitutional history in France and New Caledonia. It
also arguably signals a desire to rebalance the historical
under-representation of women in certain political bodies in France and
Disparate Impact of the Law on Parity in France and New Caledonia
The law on parity was initially applied in the March 2001 municipal elections
in both France and New Caledonia. Prior to the implementation of parity, just
over 10% of municipal officeholders were women in New Caledonia as compared
with 22% in France. As of early 2001, there were two women in the New Caledonian
cabinet, Dewe Gorodey and Francoise Mariotti, out of eleven members. In the
Territorial Congress, there were ten women out of 52 members. In the Northern
Province there was only one woman representative in the Assembly, Leo Varnier,
out of 22 members. In the Loyalty Islands, there was not a single women among
the 14 members of the Assembly. These figures speak for themselves. Prior to
the implementation of parity, politics in France and New Caledonia remained
male-dominated and arguably even chauvinistic. Women were relegated to minority
status in the governing institutions shaping their destiny.166
The March 2001 municipal167
elections marked a watershed in local elections in both France and New
Caledonia because political parties were required for the first time to
adhere to parity. This meant that in the districts with more than 3500
inhabitants, there had to be the same number of women as men on the
lists of candidates, or at the most one more male candidate because of
the uneven number of representatives.168
The new rules were applied in eleven of the largest districts in New Caledonia.169
3,559 candidates campaigned on 149 party lists for 757 seats as councillors
in the thirty-three municipal councils in New Caledonia.170
Voters were required to choose an entire list of candidates and could not vote
for individuals. Election to municipal council seats was determined on the basis
of proportional representation.171
More women were elected to local councils in the districts to which the law
applied in both New Caledonia and in France.172
The election of women to positions of power leaped dramatically in France from
22% in 1995 to 47.5% in 2001. Significantly, however, there was no remarkable
increase, in the overall number of female mayors elected in these municipal
elections in New Caledonia or France, especially in the larger cities.173
Though the representation of women in France jumped to 47.5% in the 2001 municipal
elections, only 6.7% were elected as female mayors. This represented slight
progress from the 1995 elections when women won 4.4% of the mayorships.174
In New Caledonia, though the representation of women jumped from 10.4%
to nearly one third (28.9%) of all municipal officeholders, only one
woman was elected mayor in one of the eleven municipal districts in New
Caledonia to which the law on parity applied. Mme. Ghislaine Creugnet,
representing the Conservative RPCR party was the first woman at the age
of 39 to be elected mayor in the small district of Farino.175
The RPCR demonstrated greater unity in the municipal elections than the
pro-independence FLNKS. The RPCR produced a strong showing in the
Southern Province. However, overall, Kanaks won two-thirds of the
mayoral positions. Lists presenting pro-independence candidates won in
almost twice as many communes (19) as the RPCR-FCCI coalition (10). The
other seats were won by other parties (eg. 9 by Palika, 6 seats for UC, 3
seats for the UPM and 1 for the FLNKS).176
The statistics of the election results in both France and New Caledonia
are a mixed bag. The law on parity has generated greater representation
of women on local municipal elected bodies in New Caledonia and in
France. However, this greater representation did not translate into
significantly greater representation in the more powerful mayoral
positions. It remains unclear if actual representation of women on these
local councils will translate into effective participation and
In the 2001 Senatorial elections in France, there were 101 seats (one
third) contested. Of these, the law on parity was applicable to just 74
(because the vacancies for these seats was based on the list system).
Only 22 women managed to get elected to the 74 seats. Several factors
accounted for the poor showing amongst women. In most instances, men
were placed at the top of the list. If a list of candidates from a
particular party won only one seat, the male was awarded the seat. If
the party secured three seats, two were usually granted to men with the
third seat awarded to a woman. In addition, there were also numerous
lists. Angry over being placed third on a list because of the obligation
of alternating women and men, some Senators produced their own lists.
Women now hold 10% of the seats in the Senate vs. 6.2% prior to the
implementation of parity. This indicates that parity had a slight impact
on the results for the Senate races. As previously canvassed, parity
had an unremarkable impact in helping women secure mayoral positions.178
Francoise Gaspard, a UN Expert for the CEDAW Convention, drew several
conclusions from the election outcomes resulting from the application of
parity in France. First, it proved relatively easy to establish a well
qualified pool of women eager to become candidates for election. Women
were more successful in those instances in which parity was compulsory.
Where parity was discretionary, it proved tough for women to serve as
candidates. This meant fewer women were elected in these instances.179 A group set up to supervise the implementation of parity in France concluded:
"Parties that had no chance of being elected generally ran as
many women as men. On the other hand, the large parties, which were certain
to win a substantial number of seats, were far from the mark. The Socialist
Party, even though it had introduced the "parity" bill, only ran 37% women candidates,
and the Union for a Popular Movement...the majority parity of the right, only
ran 20%. Moreover, these two political parties mostly ran women in districts
where, more often than not, the election was actually hopeless for their camp."
Mssr. Gaspard of the UN concluded that:"...[t]he application
of French laws has clearly shown...how resistance to the feminization of political
power is manifested." 181
Indeed, the experience with parity in the Senatorial elections reveals the machinations
and resistance to parity from old line political hacks and institutionalized
hierarchical male dominated bureaucratic political parties. Some political parties,
including even the Socialist Party, certainly did not comply with the spirit,
if not the letter, of the law on parity. Such manoeuvrings reflect a strong
reluctance to share the reigns of power with women. Such discouraging results
in France demonstrate the limited utility of measures endorsed by liberal or
moderate feminists, which such measures including working within existing patriarchal
structures in the hope that formal access will achieve substantive outcomes.
The experience in France shows the pitfalls with a liberal or moderate feminist
approach to gender parity in politics. It also arguably vindicates the cynicism
of some socialist feminists in France who, as previously canvassed, have been
dismissive of this type of constitutional reform since its inception. They would
argue the experience in France proves the limited utility of facial reforms
granting legal access as a means of redressing gender inequality. Granting such
legal access does not address the underlying patriarchal and other structural
discrepancies in race, class and political power. Such a process would require
far more than a mere change of a few words in the French Constitution. Nothing
short of a total revamping of the social, economic and patriarchal structures
are needed to address gender inequity.182
On the other hand, the results of parity on the Provincial level in New
Caledonia demonstrate the potential of measures endorsed by moderate or
liberal feminists in granting formal legal access. The application of
parity in New Caledonia has spawned potentially significant substantive
outcomes in terms of representation of women in political offices in New
Caledonia. The results of the recently held Provincial elections in New
Caledonia in May 2004 were highly encouraging for increasing the
representation of women. These elections witnessed the representation of
women climb dramatically from 16.7% prior to the implementation of
parity to 46.3%.183
Equally significant, from 2001, Kanak leader Dewe Gorodey has served as
Vice-President of the New Caledonian government to the present day.184
As mentioned above, Mme. Themereau had a falling out with former RPCR
leader Jacques Lafleur which led to her resignation from the RPCR in
2003. She led the list of her newly formed coalition Avenir Ensemble
(The Future Together). Of the 54 seats in the Territorial Congress,
Avenir Ensemble and RPCR each secured 16 seats. The RPCR failed to
maintain a comparative majority in the provincial elections. After much
resistance from political leaders of her former party ("RPCR"),
including secretary general Pierre Frogier, Mme. Themerau was able to
form an executive government. This government lasted for just three
hours. Three members of the RPCR resigned which brought down the
government. Both Dewe Gorodey and Mme. Themereau were ultimately
re-confirmed to their positions.185
The May 2004 elections for the provincial legislatures and the
Territorial Congress successfully broke the political juggernaut
reflected in a twenty five year hold on power over the executive
government in New Caledonia by the RPCR-UPM.186
The increasingly offensive public actions of Jacques Lafluer, the
dominant figure in the RPCR, ultimately impacted on public perceptions
over his arrogance in holding political power. He was found guilty of
defamation and criminal slander on several occasions. These verdicts
failed to tone down his publicly defamatory statements. Indeed, he
criticised the judiciary for reaching these verdicts. The public
increasingly came to associate Jacques Lafleur's arrogance with the
tactics of the RPCR187
This was the first time in New Caledonia's history that two women had
been chosen to lead and hold the two most powerful positions in the
The relatively lower population in geographically isolated New
Caledonia seems to have made it easier to institute the provisions of
parity, which received widespread publicity189 and support from women's groups as well as funding from the metropole to ensure successful implementation.190
The law on parity cannot be considered in isolation in New Caledonia.
The policies and laws implemented by politically successful women must
be carefully examined to determine if such actions are generating an
array of female voices on issues important to women and closing the gap
on gender inequality in the socio-economic and cultural spheres of
society. In the absence of facilitating such changes, the law on parity
could become a hollow victory for participatory and representative
democracy. As Rajan has explained, the actual exercise of influence by
successful women political leaders has received very little attention as
an aspect of feminist inquiry.191
As discussed earlier in this article, those women who have previously
managed to serve as token members of certain elected bodies in France as
well as New Caledonia faced hostility from men and were unable to
meaningfully wield influence in their roles. Rajan points out that some
feminists are sceptical of successful women political leaders for
several reasons. First, because some women in political positions or
public office are token reflections of representation in what is largely
a male preserve. Secondly, some accomplished women political leaders
have achieved their status largely because they have been able to assume
the codes of behaviour of men. Finally, many successful women leaders
do not provide a representative sampling of the position of women
generally of their society.192
Some would argue the resistance Mme. Themereau encountered in forming a
government substantiates the claim that women face difficulties in
entering a male dominated political culture. The climate for women to
become part of the political colonial establishment remains very chilly.
History will reveal whether the hostile atmosphere experienced by women
attempting to enter political affairs in France and New Caledonia will
disperse and become more receptive.
This raises wider issues about the utility for women of serving in
political institutions which have historically been a male preserve.
There is an inherent conflict between effecting basic change in the
dominant discourse about the role of women in public affairs and closing
the gap in social, racial and class divisions and the need to
collaborate with a historically repressive system.193
At the very least, the constitutional change followed by the
implementing legislation of parity augurs well for a Feminist
poststructuralist analysis. The ultimate success of the constitutional
reform measure allowing for, and resulting in, the implementation of
gender parity in politics establishes the historical dominant discourse
marginalizing women in public and political affairs has been challenged
by the version of social and political relations this law implicitly
fosters. In so doing, it is possible that changes in the way women's
public and political roles are viewed in a variety of foras and other
mediums of discourse may be positively affected so that the public come
to understand the representation of women is crucial in facilitating the
values of diversity and pluralism, both of which are considered
important in a participatory and representative democracy.194
In addition, greater representation of women in New Caledonia in
executive and provincial government provides an opportunity for an array
of female voices to be heard, thereby enhancing the prospects for the
institutions of government to be truly participatory and representative.
This includes Kanak women. They are more likely to approach issues with
an appreciation of their subordinated role as an underclass of
colonized peoples who have been subjected to racism and capitalism.195
Disparate Debates on Parity and Disparate Impacts
As previously noted, the differences in the debates in France and New Caledonia
may have forecast the disparate results of the facially similar laws on parity.
This is not unusual. Socio-legal scholars have long recognized that the conduct
of individuals is shaped by a range of social factors external to the law.196
Comparative lawyers have also acknowledged the importance of examining forces
outside the law (including historical and socio-economic factors as well as
geographical location, size, population base and even weather) to assist in
comparative law methodology. These forces are constantly intermingling with
the law and play a role in shaping the impact of the law on human behaviour.197
There a range of visible factors that shaped the disparate impact of the
facially similar laws on parity. These include historical ones. For
example, France experienced a Revolution that led to the recognition of
some fundamental freedoms that were never extended to women, including
the equal protection of the laws. Men were guaranteed the right to vote
in the mid-nineteenth century. Women had to wait for almost another
century before acquiring this basic right to vote in municipal
elections. By contrast, New Caledonia was annexed as a colony of France
in the mid-nineteenth century. New Caledonia has been subjugated to
French authority since the mid-nineteenth century. The law on parity was
imposed above from the colonial power. Legal mechanisms imposed from
above have been part of the legal landscape in New Caledonia since
colonization. Hence, the colony has become accustomed to implementing
measures from the metropole. The relative geographical isolation and
smaller size and population base in New Caledonia made it easier to
implement the provisions of parity. Widespread media publicity as well
as much funding from the metropole ensured a more successful
implementation of the law in New Caledonia. In France, the law on parity
had to secure publicity in a much more competitive media market where
campaigns are waged on many issues.
Moreover, women in New Caledonia in particular arguably viewed this colonially
imposed legal regime as a release from some of the chains of colonial male domination.
Though there have often been politically charged differences between women's
groups in the Southern Province and those in the Northern Province and the Loyalty
Islands, a greater sense of solidarity developed amongst women's groups to support
parity in New Caledonia. The lack of a vigorous feminist movement in New Caledonia
enabled women to unite on pragmatic grounds, recognizing the importance of female
voices on the actual issues addressed of concern to all women in New Caledonia
. Though women historically have assumed largely marginalized roles in the public
and political arena in both France and New Caledonia, the institutionalized
hierarchical male political establishment is apparently more entrenched in the
metropole. The election experiences in France reveal widespread resistance from
the political right and the political left, including even the Socialist Party
(which introduced the constitutional reform). Men from the political right and
political left are presumably much more content to pay lip service to gender
parity in politics and implement parity in a far away colony rather than in
the metropole. As previously canvassed, the roughly concurrent debates on parity
in France and New Caledonia reflected greater division amongst women in France
than in New Caledonia. In France, some socialists (including Senator Badinter
and nearly twenty prominent socialist feminists) in France opposed parity. The
French feminist movement has traditionally been associated with the political
left. Hence, some Feminists were opposed to parity on ideological grounds as
a moderate measure that would provide no guarantee of substantive outcomes.
In addition, it is conceivable some socialist feminists in France were arguably
anxious about supporting a constitutional reform measure that also received
the support of men and women from political parties representing the rightwing
of the political spectrum. The cynicism of some prominent feminists within the
Socialist Party in France about parity has been realised in the actual election
results in France. Some political parties from the left and right did not comply
with the spirit, if not the letter, of parity. Such defiance reflected a strong
unwillingness to share political power with women. The discouraging results
of parity in politics in France arguably support the dismissive views of some
socialist feminists in France that viewed parity as an exercise of complicity
with existing patriarchal state structures that would not yield substantive
results in terms of representation (not to mention influence) on political bodies.
All of the above factors help explain why the similar laws on parity
yielded different results in the two different contexts. Aside from
these obvious factors , there are certainly other factors that are not
so conspicuous. These might include distinctive socio-economic and
cultural influences that exist in metropolitan France and New Caledonia.
The attempt to achieve equality of representation through the law on parity
(a formal legal mechanism) has yielded unremarkable results in France in securing
mayoral positions or seats in the French Senate. Such discouraging results in
France demonstrate the limited utility of measures endorsed by liberal or moderate
feminists, which such measures include working within existing patriarchal state
structures in the hope that formal legal access will achieve substantive outcomes.
The experience in France shows the pitfalls with a liberal feminist approach
to gender parity in politics. It also illustrates the ways in which men challenged
the potential shift in political power to women at the local and national level.
Some radical or socialist feminists have been dismissive of this type of
constitutional law reform from its inception even though this
constitutional reform measure was introduced by the Socialist Party.
Some socialist feminists would argue the experience in France proves the
limited utility of facial reforms granting legal access as a means of
redressing gender inequality. According to such socialist feminists, the
underlying structural causes of gender inequality must be addressed
(including race and class inequity and patriarchal structures) in order
to meaningfully change gender inequality. Such a process would require
far more than a mere change in some words in the French Constitution.
Nothing short of a total overhaul of the social, economic and
patriarchal structures are needed to address gender inequity. The French
experience arguably demonstrates the difficulty of marshalling change
in the dominant historical discourse marginalizing women in political
affairs and closing the gap in social, class and race splits while
engaging with a system that has historically treated women in a
On the other hand, granting formal legal access can potentially enhance
the likelihood of producing substantive outcomes. The application of the
law on parity in New Caledonia is a testament to this assertion. The
law on parity has produced substantively significant outcomes in terms
of representation on local and provincial bodies as well as in the
executive government of New Caledonia. This is the first time in the
post-contact period that two women have been elected to the two most
important and powerful positions in the executive government.
At the very least, the constitutional change followed by the
implementing legislation of parity augurs well for feminist
poststructuralist analysis. The change in the law has the potential to
positively affect the historical dominant discourse about the
unsuitability of women for public office. The law on parity presents a
different version of social and political relations to the historical
dominant discourse, which such discourse relegated women to an
imperceptible role in public and political affairs. In so doing, it is
possible that changes in the way women's public and political roles are
viewed in a variety of fora may be positively affected. Prompted by the
law on parity, the historical dominant discursive views about the
previously largely invisible role of women in the public sphere has the
potential to create a more robust public profile and with such
heightened profile the possibility for women to exert greater political
The greater representation of women in New Caledonia in executive and
provincial governmental provides a chance for females voices to be heard
on issues of concern to women so that the public come to understand the
representation of women is crucial in facilitating the values of
diversity and pluralism, both of which are considered important in a
truly representative participatory democracy. This includes Kanak women.
They are more likely to approach issues with an appreciation of their
subordinated role as an underclass of colonized peoples who have been
subjected to racism and capitalism
The law on parity is an important emblematic symbol in that it
represents a potential shift in power and control over institutions of
government and implicitly expunges the historical invisibility of women
in the annals of constitutional history in France and New Caledonia. It
also arguably signals a desire to rebalance the historical
under-representation of women in certain political bodies in France and
New Caledonia. The long-term significance of the changes brought about
by parity for the participation of women in politics in France and New
Caledonia is hard to assess.
France has been a party to the United Nations Convention on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW") since 1983. In
2003, France was commended by the United Nations Anti-Discrimination
Committee for being a 'global trendsetter' in achieving women's rights,
through many reform measures, including the law on parity.199
Nonetheless, the Committee noted its concern for the welfare of women
in its overseas territories, including presumably New Caledonia.200
The law on parity cannot be considered in isolation. Addressing
political inequality is just one aspect of responding to gender
inequality amongst women in France and New Caledonia. The results of the
law on parity must be viewed through the broader lens of cultural and
socioeconomic factors operating in France and New Caledonia.201
One must carefully scrutinize the policies and laws implemented by politically
successful women to determine if such actions are generating female voices on
issues important to women and closing the gap on gender inequality in the socio-economic
and cultural spheres of society. This is a central element for further feminist
inquiry. There are many sceptics, particularly amongst some socialist feminists
in France, who argue granting legal access does not address the underlying patriarchal
and other structural discrepancies in race, class and political power.
All politically successful women in the metropole and New Caledonia
should use their heightened public role to press their concerns for the
implementation of governmental policies that could potentially soften
aspects of their historical oppression in customary and contemporary
society. As Stetson aptly points out:
"Feminists strive to define issues so they will change traditional
patriarchal sex roles and values that perpetuate them. There is only one of
the many points of view competing to hold sway over the description of public
problems. To have any influence feminists must gain control of the issues and
change the way they are defined, replacing the conventional logic with a feminist
one. The outcome of this conflict is crucial because changes in the laws are
likely to further women's rights only if the policymakers agree that the problems
they are designed to fix are derived from patriarchal sex roles."202
Implementation of the law on parity is a helpful first step in
challenging the historical dominant patriarchal discourse about the unsuitability
of women for public office.
Both socio-legal and comparative law scholars have noted the importance
of factors external to the law in shaping the impact of particular laws
in different contexts. The results of parity in France and New Caledonia
have been disparate and are a testament to the importance of
socio-legal and comparative law methodology. The differences in impact
are significant. The factors contributing to the disparate results are
complex. These include differences in history. New Caledonia has been
subjugated to French authority since the mid-nineteenth century. The law
on parity was imposed above by the metropole. New Caledonia has
historically become accustomed to implementing measures from the
colonizing power. The relative geographical isolation and smaller size
and population base made it relatively easier to implement the
provisions of parity. Widespread media publicity and heavy funding from
the metropole also ensured a more successful implementation of the law
in New Caledonia. In France, the law on parity had to secure publicity
in a much more competitive media market where campaigns are waged on
Moreover, women in New Caledonia arguably viewed this colonially imposed
legal regime as a release from some of the shackles of colonial male
domination. Though there have often been politically charged differences
between women's groups in the Southern Province and those in the
Northern Province and the Loyalty Islands, a greater sense of solidarity
developed amongst women's groups to support parity in New Caledonia.
The lack of a vigorous feminist movement in New Caledonia enabled women
to unite on pragmatic grounds, recognizing the importance of female
voices on the actual issues addressed of concern to all women in New
Caledonia (eg. domestic violence, rape, incest, alcohol abuse,
unemployment and female autonomy).
Though women historically have assumed largely concealed roles in the
public and political arena in both France and New Caledonia, the
institutionalized hierarchical male political establishment is
apparently more entrenched in the metropole. The election experiences in
France reveal widespread resistance from the political right and the
political left, including even the Socialist Party (which introduced the
constitutional reform). Men from the political right and political left
are presumably much more content to pay lip service to gender parity in
politics and implement parity in a distant colony rather than in the
The roughly concurrent debates on parity in France and New Caledonia
reflected greater division amongst women within a varied and spirited
Feminist movement in France than in New Caledonia, where most women's
groups refuse to associate with any 'feminist' or wider Women's
liberation movement. The differences in debate reliably forecast the
disparate impact. In France, some socialists (including Senator Badinter
and nearly twenty prominent Feminists) in France opposed parity. The
French feminist movement has traditionally been associated with the
political left. Hence, some feminists were opposed to parity on
ideological grounds as a moderate measure that would provide no
guarantee of substantive outcomes. In addition, some Socialist Feminists
in France were arguably apprehensive about supporting a constitutional
reform measure that also received the support of men and women in
political parties representing the other side of the political spectrum.
Their cynicism about parity has been realised in the actual election
results in France. Some political parties from the left and right did
not comply with the spirit, if not the letter, of parity. Such
manoeuvrings reflected a strong reluctance to share the reigns of power
with women. Such discouraging results arguably support the dismissive
views of some socialist feminists in France that viewed parity as an
exercise of complicity with existing patriarchal state structures that
would not yield substantive results in terms of representation (not to
mention influence) on political bodies.
All of the above factors help explain why the similar laws on
different results in the two different contexts. Aside from these
obvious factor, there are certainly other factors that are not so
conspicuous. These might
include distinctive socio-economic and cultural influences that exist
France and New Caledonia.
* L.L.M.Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand;
J.D., B.A. Duke University; Lecturer in Law, Griffith Law School, Queensland,
Australia. The author wishes to thank his PhD Supervisor, Professor Greta Bird,
for her constant enthusiastic support, advice and helpful feedback. The author
also wishes to thank Professor Sandra Berns for her helpful feedback on earlier
drafts of this article.
The author gratefully acknowledges the research and translation
assistance of Dr. Siobian Brownlie and the assistance of Georgia Allen, former
Australian Deputy Consul-General as well as Sally Mansfield, former Australian
Consul-General in New Caledonia, in identifying the leading Kanak women for
interviews and in providing contact details for them. The author also thanks
Cobie Mulligan for conforming these endnotes to OSCOLA style as well as Justin
Carter and Kathrin Bain for assistance in citechecking these notes.
The trip to New Caledonia and the interviews were made possible
by a Research Grant from the Socio-Legal Research Centre of Griffith Law School.
The author acknowledges the contributions of Dr. Peter Brown and Professor Rosemary
Hunter in the grant application. The author also acknowledges the assistance
of Dr. Brown in conducting seven of the interviews. The writing of this article
represents the author's work.
1 The research
for this article utilizes a variety of research methods (historical, political,
socio-legal and empirical). Empirical research has increasingly come to be recognized
as an important tool for innovative legal research: T Hutchinson Legal Research
in Law Firms (Hein & Co Buffalo 1994) 13. Some interview transcripts have
been used to gather the views of Kanak men and Kanak women on the French constitutional
amendment allowing for the implementation of the law on parity. Quotations from
these interviews are presented in italics and presented separately in
Appendix A. Quotes from other sources are presented in normal
font in both the text and Appendix A. (These interviews were
conducted with the approval of the Griffith University Human Research Ethics
Committee for the period 16 June 2001 through 13 July 2001: (GU Ref No: LAW/05/01/HREC).
A final report on the findings and major conclusions of the research has been
submitted to the Griffith University Human Research Ethics Committee. The analysis
of these interviews is informed by a feminist poststructural approach. R Graycar
and J Morgan, The Hidden Gender of Law (2nd edn The Federation
Press New South Wales at 2002) 54.
Kanaks are the indigenous Melanesian population in New Caledonia.
Anthropologists believe Kanaks arrived in New Caledonia possibly as early as
3000 B.C. and perhaps as recently as 100 B.C. In the pre-contact period, the
Kanak population was believed to be approximately 60,000. Kanak translates approximately
into "man of the country." It is intended to symbolize the link between the
indigenous peoples and their land and natural environment. A Berman 'Future
Kanak Independence In New Caledonia: Reality or Illusion?' (1998) 34 Stan J.Int'L2,
Captain James Cook discovered New Caledonia in 1774. France took
possession of New Caledonia in 1853. New Caledonia is situated in the
Pacific almost 14,000 miles away from France and 1200 miles east of
Australia. New Caledonia is made up of the "Grand Terre" (main island)
and a set of smaller islands which include the Loyalty Islands and the
Isle of Pines. The "Grand Terre" has a total surface of almost 17,000
miles. The west coast of the main island has over 80% of the arable land
in the territory. The name New Caledonia was given to the main island
by Captain Cook as a remembrance of his native country, Scotland (which
had once been identified as Caledonia): Ibid 287-288.
3 The Constitutional
law on parity amends Article 3 of Title I of the French Constitution and Article
4 of the same Constitution to provide that: 'the law promotes equal access of
women and men to election mandates and elective office' and 'political parties
and organizations contribute to the implementation of this principle in accordance
with the provisions of the law.' The law was passed by both the National Assembly
and the Senate together. This was designed to display a broad agreement amongst
members of Parliament. (745 voted in favour, 43 against and 48 abstentions).
This Constitutional amendment was followed by implementing legislation mandating
that women must constitute 50% of the electoral lists for certain elective offices.
Individuals are presented to the public, under French electoral policy, on party
lists. Seats are then allocated on a proportional basis in particular electorates.
N Macllelan 'From Eloi to Europe: Intersection with the ballot box in New
Caledonia' (2004) 9
(12 June 2005) Lists which are not in compliance with the law
on parity will not be registered. For general elections, the law provides that
political parties and organizations which do not present 50% of candidates of
each sex (with a margin of 2%) will be penalized financially. The law on parity
was been applied in New Caledonia in a bill on parity adopted by the French
Parliament one month after the implementing legislation in France. One month
after having voted the law on parity, the French Parliament adopted the bill
on parity to be applied in New Caledonia and its other overseas territories.
The French Constitution required that the law be adopted by an absolute majority
in favour. 339 MP's (the absolute majority would be 289 votes) voted in favour
of the law, and two voted against the bill. The parties PS, PCF, RCV and UDE
voted in favour of the Bill, while the RPR and DL abstained.C Faure 'Women's
History after the Law on Parity' in R Celestin, E Dalmolin and S de Courtivron
(eds) Beyond French Feminisms Debate on Women, Politics and Culture in France,
1981-2001 (Palgrave Macmillan New York 2003) 41; C Lambert 'French Women
in Politics: The Long Road to Parity (2001)
(12 June 2005); La Parite Entre Les Femmes et Les hommes a
Portee de Main (Document de l'Observatoire de la Parite Entre Les Femmes et
Les Hommes (2000)
(12 June 2005); Decision of the Constitutional Council no. 2000-429
DC of 30 May 2000 upholding these constitutional amendments). Elle Vient
d'être Adoptée Définitivement par le Parlement. La Parité
Hommes-Femmes en Politique s'impose Dans Les TOM. Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes
(Noumea New Caledonia 23 June 2000)
(12 June 2005) Loi no.2000-493 du 6 Juin 2000 (Journal Officiel
no. 131 du 7 juin 2000, 8560).
4 The issue
of gender parity in politics was tied into the issues of colonialism and independence
during the pre-implementation debates in New Caledonia. Some Kanak male political
leaders as well as the executive committee of the largest Kanak party (FLNKS)
argued that parity was a colonial law not emanating from the Kanak community.
Such a legal regime imposed from above by the colonial power would divert resources
and attention away from the primary Kanak goal of achieving independence. See
Section on Opposition in New Caledonia To The Law On Parity infra. See also
Section "Colonially Imposed Legal Regime Undermining Independence?" and fns
140-155 and accompanying text infra.
France has a large military presence in the Pacific helps France
project its status as a global power in the Pacific. New Caledonia has one of
the highest per capita incomes in the Pacific. Most New Caledonians are conscious
that a withdrawal of French presence and aid would adversely impact on their
standard of living. It is doubtful that France would willingly remove its entire
presence in New Caledonia because of its desire to maintain presence as a Pacific
power. France has paid for its presence in New Caledonia with very high public
budget deficits, resulting in part from a large contingent of French public
servants. Some have suggested this heavy cost will induce France to reconsider
its presence in New Caledonia. Nevertheless, most agree independence is the
least likely potential future outcome in New Caledonia See fns 140-158 and accompanying
text infra;: Berman (n 1) 302, 335. A Berman 'The Noumea Accords: Emancipation
or Colonial Harness?' (2001) 36:2 Texas Intl L J 294.
5 As Cass
and Rubenstein explain: 'due to the complexity and varied nature of women's
interests... women experience the world differently from men... the under-representation
of women skews the system of representative democracy toward one gender.': D
Cass and K Rubenstein 'From Federation Forward: The Representation of Women
in the Australian Constitutional System' in H Irving (ed) A Woman's Constitution?:
Gender and History in the Australian Commonwealth (Hale and Iremonger New
South Wales 1996) 111-112; K Rubenstein 'Constitutional Law, Administrative
Law and Institutional Ethics: The Role of Feminist Values' (Unpublished Paper
6 R Rajan
'Gender, Leadership and Representation' in Real and Imagined Women, Gender,
culture and postcolonialism (Routledge Press: London 1993) 105, 116-117.
7 Rubenstein (n 5) 13-15.
11 G Allwood
'The campaign for parity in political institutions in France' 17-20
(10 June 2005).
17-19; Rajan (n 6) 105, 116,117.
of Kanak leader D Gorodey in Appendix A.1.1.
Pacific Parliamentary Retreat. Report pdf/rtf.
(17 June 2005).
18 C Weedon
Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory (Blackwell Press Oxford
1992) 6; M Stivens and Sen (eds) Theorising gender, power and modernity in
Asia (Routledge Press New York 1998 12; G Waylen Gender in Third World
Politics (Open University Press Buckingham 1996) 46.
19 R Pringle
and S Watson 'Feminist Theory And The State: Needs, Rights and Interests' in
B Sullivan and G Whitehouse (eds) Gender, Politics & Citizenship in the 1990's
(UNSW Press, Sydney 1996) 74; Rubenstein (n 7); Cass (n 5) 109-116.
(n 18); Waylen (n 18).
21 D Stetson
Women's Rights in France (Greenwood Press New York 1987) 27.
(n 18) 4, 17-18,40; Stetson (n 21) 27; Allwood (n11) 16 suggests there are more
pragmatic steps that could be taken to redress existing imbalances in political
representation, including extending the right to vote to overseas residents,
instituting a system of proportional representation, and granting greater access
(n 18) 40-41 defines feminist poststructuralism as 'a mode of knowledge production
which uses poststructuralist theories of language, subjectivity, social processes
and institutions to understand existing power relations and to identify areas
and strategies for change.'
(n 18) 19, 111-113.
(n 18) 21, 41, 91.
(n 18) 18.
(n 18) 40-41 41,111-113; Cass and Rubenstein (n 5), 109-116.
(n 3) 39.
c/f Stetson (n 21) 20-21 who is more equivocal in her assessment of the historical
treatment of women in France.
(n 21) 7.
31 S Milner
and N Parsons 'Introduction' Reinventing France
(10 June 2005) 2.
(n 3); Stetson (n 21) 20-21.
vient d'etre adoptee definitivement part le Parlement; La parite Hommes-Femmes
en politique s'impose Dans les TOM, Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea
New Caledonia 23 June 2000) (n 3); Faure (n 3) 41; 'La difficile ascension
professionnelle des femmes' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes ( Noumea New Caledonia
22 December 2000); 'La Parite entre les femmes et les hommes a portee de
main Document de l'Observatoire de la Parite entre les femmes et les hommes,
September 2000); Lambert (n 3).
Factbook 2005 Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics
Lambert (n 3)
(n 3); "Les etats-majors des enterprises s'ouvrent timidement aux femmes"
Le Monde (7 March 2001).
nouvelles rebelles du feminisme' Le nouvel observateur (15 June 2000) 42;
C Miraton (n 49) Lambert (n 3).
38 As Stetson
(n 21) 26 has noted: 'Legal equality has merely allowed women into the political
arena as an extension of their traditional role in the family, without disturbing
the male-dominated system.': Stetson (n 21) Preface, 6-7,20-21,25.
40 B Claudel,
(tr) 'D Gorodey vice-president of the Frogier government' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes
(Noumea New Caledonia 6 April 2001).
of Marie-Adele Joredie in App A.1.2.
42 S Tennant
'Kanak women and their participation in social, economic and political development
in New Caledonia (PWRB, Secretariat of the Pacific 1998) c 2 19-20.
(10 June 2005).
19; Statement of Kanak leader, D Gorodey, Vice President of New Caledonia in
44 M Wooden,
'Enterprise Bargaining and the Gender Earnings Gap' (1997) 23 Australian Bulletin
of Labour 214 quoted in Graycar and Morgan (n 1) 164.
involved in the development planning process Workshop and Development Report'
(SPC Noumea, New Caledonia 1997) 11.
of Kanak leader, D Gorodey, App A.1.4.
your priorities right' Crossroads Newsletter 16-20 August 2004 4
(14 December 2004).
(n 21) 47.
49 C Miraton
'La difficile ascension professionnelle des femmes' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes
(Noumea New Caledonia 22 December 2000).
reagissent' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (New Caledonia 22 December 2000).
51 c/f A
Paini 'The kite is tied to you' in 'Custom, Christianity and organization among
Kanak women in Drueulu' Lifo, New Caledonia (September/December 2003) 74 Oceania
Nos. 1 & 2 81-98; B Douglas 'Prologue and Christianity, tradition and everyday
modernity: towards and anatomy of Women's groupings in Melanesia' (September/December
2003) 74 Oceania Nos. 1 & 2 (1-24)
(n 42) 8-10.
(n 1) fn 56-65 and text 297, fn 38 and text 294; B Gasser 'Femmes chez Mariotti'
in S Faessel (ed.) La Femme entre tradition et modernite dans le Pacifique
Sud (Noumea/Paris, CORAIL/L'Harmattan 1996) 289, 235-48) ( tr); M Weisz
'Women's Words from Past Days in Paroles des femmes' in Sonia Faessel (éd),
La Femme entre tradition et modernité dans le Pacifique Sud
(Nouméa/Paris, CORAIL/L'Harmattan 1996) 274-286 (tr); E Vieillard &
E Deplance (tr) 'De la condition des femmes, marriages' in Essai sur la
Nouvelle-Caledonie Collection Facsimiles oceaniens ( L'Harmattan, Paris,
54 T Tongamoa
(ed) Pacific Women Roles and Status of Women in Pacific Societies (Institute
of Pacific Studies of the USP 1988); Tennant (n 42) 9.
55 In France,
an increased participation of women in women's groups, associations, political
parties and lobby groups enabled them to be in a position to exert greater influence
on issues of concern to them: Stetson (n 21) 48.
(n 42) 13,16,22; A Paini (n 51) 81, 94 examines a 1990 march in the Island of
Lifou by a group of women protesting alcohol abuse in the Island. In this article,
she also demonstrates how women in Lifou engaged with both individual and communal
goals not as feminists or 'anti-male' challenging conventional gender norms
but as members of a wider community concerned with successfully deploying strategies
to deal with problems resulting from the colonial process. Alcohol abuse is
arguably one problem whose onset is linked to the trauma associated with the
colonial process; c/f H Hughes 'Women in Development in the South Pacific, Barriers
and Opportunities' (Development Studies Centre A N U Canberra 1985).(Paper presented
at Women in Development Conference 1984) 10 who asserts that many women's groups
in the Pacific region have been plagued by sectional disharmony rendering them
ineffective in devising guiding principles to enhance their prospects for meaningful
involvement in the political process. The recent creation of the South Pacific
Women's Resource Bureau at the South Pacific Commission was intended to enhance
the prospects for greater harmony between women's groups. The debates on parity
in New Caledonia witnessed remarkable unity amongst all women's groups in New
57 S de
Bonnefoy, 'La petition en faveur de la parite a recueilli 1600 signatures'
Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 24 March 2000); 'Politique:
en Bref' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 7 March 2000);
C Miraton (n 49);B Claudel 'Le Revirement du FLNKS' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes
(Noumea New Caledonia 9 March 2000); 'La parite colon-femmes; les reactions'
Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 10 March 2000); 'Nicole
Waia demande un debat au Congres sur la parite colon/femmes en politique' Les
Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 25 March 2000); Tennant (n
52 footnotes 74-81 and accompanying text at 15-17).
58 (n 45)
A women's council was actually created in 1983 in New Caledonia but it was never
actually operational until the public debate on parity took place in New Caledonia
in 2000; 'Assemblee generale des femmes de la Province sud' Les Nouvelles
Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 4 September 2000).
59 (n 45)
60 (n 45)
generale des femmes de la province sud' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea
New Caledonia 4 September 2000).
S Debonnefoy 'Le Conseil des Femmes se remet sur les rails' Les Nouvelles
Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 7 October 2000).
Rights Training Workshop (Noumea New Caledonia 25th - 28th
(14 December 2004) 1.
(n 21) 20-21, 36, 46-7; Faure (n 3) 42.
(n 18) 4, 17-18, 40. As one commentator has accurately pointed out: 'no radical
rethinking on the issue of political power has emanated from the women's movements
even in the west in spite of the recognition of the need for such a formulation.':
Rajan (n 6) 103.
(n 21) 36,47.
(n 21) 36; K Zweigert and H Kötz (tr) (T Weir) An Introduction to Comparative
Law (3rd edn Clarendon Press Oxford U.K. 1998) 84.
(n 3) 41. For a historical overview of developments culminating in the law on
parity M Sineau 'Parite in Politics, From A Radical Idea to Consensual Reform'
in C DalMolin and De Courtivron (eds) Beyond French Feminisms, Debates on
Women, Politics and Culture in France, 1981-2001 (Palgrave Macmillan Press
New York N.Y. 2003) 113-125.
(n 3) 41. The consideration of this law by both bodies was intended to display
the widespread support of members of Parliament for the law on parity: Ibid
71 In 1791
Olympe de Gouges drafted a Declaration on the Rights of Woman in which she pronounced
that: 'Women have the right to mount the scaffold, they should equally have
the right to mount the rostrum.' Two years after drafting this Declaration,
she was beheaded: Ibid.
was also made to Louise Michel (an adjudged criminal offender) and Madeleine
Pelletierto, a women who achieved notoriety for her willingness to perform abortions.:Ibid.
75 Faure (n 3) 39-40.
41-3; Milner and Parsons (n 31) 3,8-9 .
77 Faure (n 3) 42.
and Parsons (n 31) 3, 8-9 ; G Allwood (n 11).
and Parsons (n31) 3; G Allwood (n 11) 7.
81 Lambert (n 3).
(n 11) 17.
85 See above n 3.
the vigorous public dialogue about the law on parity in the media, concerns
over attacks against journalists have plagued New Caledonia for several years,
calling into question the extent to which there exists a free press. The situation
for journalists in New Caledonia has become so severe in recent years that Reporters
San Frontiers ("RSF") issued a press release expressing its concern over the
increase of violent acts committed against journalists in New Caledonia. RSF
also wrote letters to the then President of the New Caledonian Southern Provincal
Assembly (Jacques Lafluer) and Senator and President of the Congress of New
Caledonia (Simon Loueckhote) requesting that the political officials in New
Caledonia condemn attacks on journalists and undertake all necessary means to
discover and punish those responsible for committing these acts. Radio Djido
L Moreo'Mugged Reporters san frontiers' (Noumea New Caledonia 20 February 2002)
(14 December 2004).
The following month, in early March 2002, approximately 500
people mounted a street protest in Noumea in support of the importance of a
free press. This protest was organized by the Human Rights League. The protestors
presented the French High Commissioner, Thierry Lataste, with an open letter
emphasizing that free expression is not "limited to... non-aggression towards
press members: it must also rely on the very existence of the press, its plurality
and accessibility to the greater number." Mssr. Lataste allegedly expressed
his concern that individuals were increasingly expressing themselves through
violence. World Press Freedom Review 2003
at 1-2 (14 December 2004); World Press Freedom Review 2002
at 2-3 (22 June 2005).
(n 18) 19; de Bonnefoy (n 57); 'Nicole Waia demande un debat au Congres sur
la parite hommes/femmes en politique' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New
Caledonia 25 March 2000).
91 In the
September 2001 election, Loueckhote managed to win a second nine-year term to
the French Senate notwithstanding his fairly public opposition to the implementation
of parity and a widely reported violent clash with a supporter of the FLNKS
in Ouvea in March of 2001: D Chappell New Caledonia, (2002) The Contemporary
Pacific 14:2, 446, 447, 449.
92 S de Bonnefoy 'Simon Loueckhote renounce a son amendment sur la parite' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 24 Februrary 2000).
(14 December 2004); S de Bonnefoy (n 92); Macllelan (n 3) 9.
94 S de Bonnefoy (n 92).
(14 December 2004); Macllelan (n 3) 9.
97 S de Bonnefoy (n 92).
99 Th. Squillario 'Simon Loueckhote s'est amende' L'echo caledonien, p. 11 (date unknown, copy in possession of author).
de Bonnefoy (n 92).
101 O Beligon 'A Debate on Parity should have been organized in the Congress' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 4 March 2000).
parite hommes--femmes: les reaction', Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea
New Caledonia 10 March 2000)
103 'Loi sur la parite; La sagesse de Cesar Qenegei' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 26 February 2000).
104 Bridgette Claudel 'La
senateur souhaite que la loi sur la parite hommes-femmes ne s'applique
pas pour les municipals de 2001' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 3 March 2000).
105 'Parite: les femmes citoyennes indigenes', Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 4 March 2000).
de Bonnefoy (n 88).
108 Ibid; 'Politique: en Bref' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 7 March 2000); C Miraton (n. 49); B Claudel 'Le Revirement du FLNKS' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 9 March 2000); 'La parite hommes-femmes: les reactions' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 10 March 2000); 'Nicole Waia demande un debat au Congres sur la parite colon/femmes en politique' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 25 March 2000); 'La parite hommes-femmes: les reactions' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 10 March 2000).
109 B Claudel 'Le Revirement du FLNKS' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 9 March 2000).
111 (tr) Interviews of Customary Senators with Author.
112 'La parite hommes-femmes: les reactions' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 10 March 2000).
de Bonnefoy (n 57).
115 'Nicole Wait demande un debat au Congres sur la parite hommes/femmes en politique' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 25 March 2000).
119 N Macllelan (n 3), (n 99)
Squillario 'Simon Loueckhote s'est amende' L'echo caledonien, p. 11 (date
unknown, copy in possession of author).
Grillo quoted in Graycar and Morgan (n 1) 54.
122 Ibid 54-55; Weedon (n 18) 32.
123 Weedon (n 18) 32.
and Morgan (n 1) 54-55.
Moreton-Robinson Talkin' Up To The White Woman (University of Queensland
Press, Queensland, Brisbane 2000) 2-3, 94-95, 123; Waylen (n 18) 17-19; Weedon
(n 18) 92-106, 111-113.
126 Waylen (n 18) 17-19.
129 B Claudel 'L'avenir de nos enfants ne doit pas etre laisse aux seules main des homes' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 5 July 2000).
Macllelan (n 3) 9-10.
132 (tr) Interview with Senator Loueckote.
K 'Savell Wrestling with Contradictions: Human Rights and Traditional
Practices Affecting Women' (1996) 41 McGill Law Journal 781,792-4.
134 Waylen (n 18) 46.
Mackinnon 'Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State: An Agenda for Theory' (1982)
Signs 515, 535-7 quoted in Graycar and Morgan (n 1) 71.
137 Weedon (n 18) 33.
Sarmas 'Storytelling and the Law: A Case Study of Louth v Diprose' (1994)
19 Melbourne University L Rev 701, 726 quoted in Graycar and Morgan (n 1) 76.
la gangue ancestrale a la conscience individuelle' in Melanesians d'aujourd'hui;
La société melanesienne dans le monde modern c 2 (1976). Publications
de la société d'Etudes Historiques de la Nouvelle-Caledonnie,
no. 11, Noumea New Caledonia) "From the ancestral straight jacket to individual
consciousness. (tr); See also La Cellule Familiale (tr) Melanesians d'aujourd'hui;
La Societe melanesienne dans le monde moderne c 2 (1976). Publications de la
Societe d'Etudes Historiques de la Nouvelle-Caledonnie, No. 11, Noumea New Caledonia).
45) 10-12; (n 41).
141 See above n 109.
142 G Spivak 'Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography' in Guha and Spivak (eds) Selected Subaltern Studies, (Oxford University Press: Oxford 1988) 6.
4). As one commentator has observed: 'ethnic conflict in New Caledonia has been
largely subdued. The power-sharing guarantees have ensured Kanak participation
in the government, and the reforms in administration and land tenure have muted
many longstanding grievances...' 'The Head Heeb' (April 30 2004)
144 c/f Not all Kanak women view the Noumea Accords with such skepticism: Marie-Claude Tjibaou App A.1.20.
(n 4) fn 138-139 and accompanying text 294-297.
"Decolonization Committee Welcomes 'Significant Developments' in New Caledonia:
Urges Parties to Maintain Dialogue"
(21 May 2005).
1) 331; N Tohidi 'Gender and Islamic Fundamentalism, Feminist Politics in Iran'
in C Mohanty, A Russo and L Torres (eds) Third World Women and the Politics
of Feminism (Indiana University Press: Indiana 1991) 251-267.
Simpson 'The Diffusion of Sovereignty: Self-Determination in the Post-Colonial
Age' (Summer 1996) 32 Stanf.J.Int'l L. 255,257,279.
After successfully encouraging new migrants to the territory, France
then relied on the democratic principle of majority rule to deprive
Kanaks (who by this time were a minority population in their own land)
of a true exercise of the right of self-determination and the realistic
possibility of independence: Berman (n 1) 287,309,315-316.
(n 147) 255, 279-280; Tohidi (n 147) 251-267.
151 Simpson (n 147) 279-280 and fn 123.
152 Weedon (n 18) 17.
Macllelan (n 3). 10.
Caledonia: 'no' to France; 'no' to independence; 'yes' to what?' Interview with
New Caledonian vice president First Broadcast
last visited 29/05/2004.
French Minister for Overseas Territories, Brigitte Giardin visited New Caledonia
before the Provincial elections in March 2004. She expressed confidence in the
process by which the Noumea Accords are being implemented even though there
is a lack of unity in both the pro and anti-independence parties in the run
up to the 2004 Provincial elections.
(14 December 2004).
158 Berman (n 4) 297.
Chappell 'Political Reviews, New Caledonia,' (Fall 2004) 16 The Contemporary
Pacific 2 383, 392
162 Allwood (n 11) 18.
(n 18) 18-19.
165 Waylen ( n 18) 17.
Chapuis 'La politique se conjuge au feminine, Objectif mai 2001' 16-18;
R Hoffmann 'French Pacific Island Breaks New Ground in Politics' (20 August
(14 December 2004).
169) (n 170); C Lambert (n 3).
169), (n 170) As of July 2000, the population of New Caledonia was estimated
to be 201,816. There are an estimated 101,762 males and an estimated 100,054
females-ratio of 1.02 male(s)/female. Amongst the age group 0-14 years, 31%
of the population (31,396 males: 30,160 females-ratio of 1.05 male (s)/female.
Amongst the ages 15-64, 64% of the population (65,042 males, 63,961 females-ratio
of 1.02 male(s)/female. Amongst the ages of 65 and over, 5% of the population
(5,324 males, 5,933 females-ratio of ..9% male(s)/females. Melanesians constitute
an estimated 42.5% of the population, followed by Europeans at 37.1%, Wallisians
at 8.4%, Polynesians at 3.8%, Indonesians at 3.6%, Vietnamese at 1.6% and all
others at 3%. It is also estimated that over 90% of the over 15 age population
(14 December 2004).
169 'Elles reagissent' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (New Caledonia 22 December 2000); 'Elections municipals' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (New Caledonia 19 February 2001).
170 'Municipales: 3559 candidats pour 757 sieges' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (New Caledonia 6 March 2001).
Macllelan (n 3). 5,9; J Fraenkel 'Do Pacific Electoral Systems Matter or is
Political Culture Everything? (USP Pacific Institute of Advanced Studies In
Development and Governance 2004) (Paper presented at Political Culture, Representation
and Electoral Systems in the Pacific) 13
(n 166); Gaspard (n 199) 3; N Macllelan (n 3) 9; Chappell (n 91)
(n 166); Milner and Parsons (n 31) at 8-9.
(n 166); Chappell (n 91); Gaspard (n 199).
(n 166); Chappius (n 166); Chappell (n 91) 448.
(n 166); Chappius (n 166); Chappell (n 91) 448.
177 'Des femmes plus nombreuses en mairie' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 9 March 2001); c/f 'Elles reagissent' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 22 December 2000); 'La reaction du movement Citoyens pour construire' Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes (Noumea New Caledonia 3 March 2000).
(n 199) 3.
(n 199) 3, 4.
(n 199) 3.
(n 199) 4.
182 Fn 18-22.
results of the 2004 Provincial elections in New Caledonia for the Territorial
Congress are as follows: Avenir Ensemble (The Future Together) 22.8%
of the vote (16/54 seats); Rassemblement pour une Caledonie dans la France
(Rally for Caledonia in France) 24.5% of the vote (16/54 seats); Union nationale
pour l'independence-Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (National
Union for Independence-Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front) 13.7%
of the vote (18/54 seats); Union Caledonienne (Caledonian Union) 11.9%
of the vote (7/54 seats); Front National 7.5% of the vote (4/54 seats); Union
des comites de la Cooperation pour l'independence (Union of Pro-Independence
Co-operation Committees) 3.2% of the vote (1/54 seats); Union Caledonienne
Renouveau (Renewed Caledonian Union) 1.8% of the vote (1/54 votes); Liberation
Kanak Socialists (Socialist Kanak Liberation) 2.9% of the vote (1/54 seats)
(14 December 2004).
three provincial assemblies as well as the Territorial Congress and executive
government in New Caledonia are creatures of the Noumea Accords. N Macllelan
(n 3) 9-10.
(n 3) 10-13; Fraenkel (n 171); 'Resignations plunge New Caledonia into political
crisis' RNZI 28 June 2004
last visited 14/12/1004; 'New Caledonia, The EIU view'
last visited 14/12/2004; c/f 'CIA - The World Factbook - New
last visited 14/12/2004 5 which says Mme. Themereau was not
elected until a third round of voting with 8 votes in favour and 3 abstentions;
Macllelan (n 3) 10-13; 'New Caledonia:
New government collapses within hours' Radio Australia June 10 2004; (Statement
of Marie-Noelle Themereau
(14 December 2004).
April 2003, an appellate court in France upheld a magistrate's ruling of defamation
against Jacques Lafleur. This finding was based on an accusation made by Lafleur
in his memoires entitled L'Assiege (Beseiged) that Michel Levallois,
a former French envoy played a role in the 1985 assassination of Eloi Machoro,
one of the leaders of the Kanak independence movement. The publisher was ordered
to pay $15,000 Euro in addition to court costs. The publisher was also ordered
to remove reference to the events in Thio in which Machoro was shot by French
gendarmes from future publications: 2003 World Press Freedom Review
102 (14 December 2004); Lafluer had previously been found guilty
of criminal slander and defamation for calling the President of a local neighbourhood
association named Bruna Van Petegham 'a little bastard, little crook and a procedural
person'. He had been fined roughly US $23,336 plus damages. Lafleur denounced
the verdict as reflecting a serious malfunction amongst the judiciary in New
Caledonia. He later repeated the same defamatory statements against Van Peteghem
that resulted in another trial in early March in which a court in Noumea found
him once again guilty of criminal slander and defamation: 2001 World Press Freedom
at 3 (14 December 2004).
(n 3) 10.
15) (n 16) (n 17) (n 88-120) and accompanying text.
(n 11) 17; Rajan (n 6 ) 108.
(n 6) 105, 108.
'Asking the Law Question' 218 quoted in Graycar and Morgan (n 1) 81.
194 Fn 5-13, 23-27.
Unmodified' 77 quoted in Graycar and Morgan (n 1) 427.
196 K Zweigert & H Kötz (tr Tony Weir) An Introduction to Comparative Law
(3rd ed.) (Oxford University Press: Oxford, U.K. 1998) 11.
197 Ibid 11, 36.
198 Waylen (n 18) 17.
a.k.a. International Bill of Rights for Women was adopted in 1979 to reinforce
the equal rights of women provided for in both the Preamble and Article 1 of
the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and both International
Covenants (Civil and Political as well as Economic, Social and Cultural). CEDAW
was subsequently passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1981. There
are currently over 180 countries that are party to this international treaty.
France acceded to CEDAW with reservations in 1983 and in June 2000 acceded to
the Optional Protocol.
Article 3 of CEDAW provides in relevant part: 'State parties
shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social economic and
cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure
the advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise
and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality
Article 4 of CEDAW recognises that State parties may use temporary
special measures to combat discrimination such as 'positive action, preferential
treatment or quota systems to advance women's integration into education, the
economy, politics and employment.'
Article 5(a) further requires states to 'modify the social and
cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the
elimination of prejudices and customary and other practices which are based
on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or
on stereotyped roles for men and women.'
Article 7 further stipulates: 'State parties shall take all
appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political
and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on
equal terms with men, the right (a) to be elected to public office and to hold
other government posts and positions...'
(22 May 2005);
(22 May 2005)
(22 May 2005).
The law on parity arguably implements France's obligations under
Articles 3,4(1) and 7 of CEDAW. The debate on parity in France failed to make
reference to CEDAW: F Gaspard 'Lessons from Parity Laws for Elections in France'
(paper presented at the seminar 'Good Practices in Social Inclusion: A Dialogue
between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean'March 2003) 2.
Nations Anti-Discrimination Committee Urges France-'Global Trendsetter'-To
Remove Remaining Obstacles to Achieving Women's Rights Press Release
(22 May 2005). The Committee noted the positive step taken by
France in ratifying the Optional Protocol to CEDAW in 2000 as well as the constitutional
reform mandating parity. The Committee also commended France on establishing
a Monitoring Commission on Gender Parity as well as an Interministerial Committee
on Women's Rights. There is now a Department of Women's Rights and Equality
set up to foster gender equality. The Committee also noted the drafting of a
national platform on equality as well as the enactment of a May 2001 law dealing
with professional equality. From 2002, elections to industrial boards in relevant
industries must introduce parity. Other actions undertaken in metropolitan France
were also noted. Nevertheless, the Committee expressed disappointment that France
had not removed reservations to several articles of CEDAW, including Article
5(b), 16(g), Article 14, Article 29.
201 Stetson (n 21) 48.
202 Stetson (n 21) xii.
1.1 Kanak leader, Dewe Gorodey, Vice-President of
the New Caledonian government, has stated:
"[Parity] is important as a symbol but it's important especially for
democracy. It's not only a matter of Kanak women being considered equal
to European women, but democracy concerns all women." (tr of Interview of D. Gorodey with Author).
1.2 Kanak leader Marie-Adele Joredie has explained
the tension produced by trying to fulfil multiple roles:
"Today in general society says reluctantly that women have a role to
play. Encouragement is a more complex matter elsewhere. It involves a
personal choice, the choice of a couple, the choice of a family. There
were women who could be involved in politics but who do not receive the
necessary encouragement. It's very difficult for a woman to accept
responsibilities if her husband or her clan doesn't support her. The
women who play a role in politics today have the support of their
family. If there was more encouragement from their entourage, more Kanak
women would get involved in politics. I dream of a time when more women
are competent both in the family and clan, as well as professionally
and in a political role. People join a political party which corresponds
with their ideas, but women in politics must also have a family which
supports them in carrying out political as well as family duties. When a
woman has political functions, it's difficult because her private life
becomes public in a way. This is also why our society doesn't encourage
women—because the woman will be subject to the aggression of politics,
the world of politics is very hard." (tr. Interview of Marie-Adele Joredie with Author).
1.3 As Kanak leader, Dewe Gorodey, Vice President
of the New Caledonian executive government explains:
"What is the most difficult for customary authorities to accept is
women speaking in public, because for millenniums public speech was
reserved for men. Speaking in public was the role of men: it was not the
role of women. We had to fight, we had to assert ourselves. Through
their work, their activism, women have made a place for themselves. We
had to fight to gain a right which traditionally was not ours. And we're
fighting for our place today. My own attitude is to separate custom and
politics. I think that when you mix the two there are a lot of
problems. But you have to know custom well in order to know what belongs
to the sphere of custom, and what belongs to politics." (tr. of Interview of Dewe Gorodey with Author.
1.4 Dewe Gorodey has stated:
"Today I think that it is less custom which discourages women from
taking on a political role than religion and religious sects. Religious
discourse is very conservative, very reactionary with regard to the
woman's role. Biblical versus say that "the woman is a piece of man";
it's a discourse which puts women in an inferior position. The church
discourse has a strong hold, and it's holding women back." (tr. of Interview of D. Gorodey with Author).
1.5 Nicole Waia (an elected representative from
the Union Caledonienne party in the New Caledonian Congress and in the Southern
Province who deals with education, training, health and social security) rejects
any association with the feminist movement but is very supportive of the French
Constitutional change. She thinks there is an important role for Kanak women
in the political, social, and economic affairs of New Caledonia:
"I'm a woman, I'm not a feminist. I've taken part in a number of
international conferences on women's rights, for example in Thailand,
Fiji, and the United States. I think women's rights should be recognized
because we are human beings like men. But we should not be feminist.
But I say that men must be aware of the role that women can play in
politics in our country. When women participate in the institutions, the
Congress or the provincial assemblies, they have something to
contribute. Women are much more sensitive to social problems, because
it's women who bring up the children. Women are much more sensitive to
people's problems. As for feminist literature, I certainly don't read
books written by feminists. I prefer books about women who are
fulfilled, not feminist women" (tr. Interview of Nicole Waia with Author).
1.6 Similar sentiments have been expressed by other
leading Kanak women in New Caledonia, such as Marie-Adele Joredie, who played
an instrumental role in setting up the Kanak schools in the 1980s to educate
"I'm not a feminist... I think women's rights come from their
role in giving life. I don't agree with women's associations whose aim
is to oppose men. I've never been a feminist. In 1970 I set up a woman's
association in order to fight against alcoholism. We were taken to
court because of some of our actions, for example, we wanted to prohibit
men from bringing alcohol to our celebrations... There are principles
for living, there are some things which I can't tolerate, for example, a
man beating a woman, and leaving all the tasks to be done by the woman.
I have seven children, four boys and three girls. I taught my boys to
cook, even if in my culture it's not like that-I said it would be useful
if their wife was ill; that doesn't diminish their value as men. I
don't oppose women to men in our society, so I'm not a feminist. The aim
for me is that the principles which govern our life should be followed
in such a way that neither partner in a couple is disadvantaged. Take an
example from my family. I have four sisters and eight brothers. I was
the only girl among the six eldest brothers. I was the only girl among
the six eldest boys. It was easier for my mother not to treat me
differently from the boys, for example, I wore shorts rather than a
dress, because it took less material. But by the same token I insisted
that I was not going to cook for my brothers, I wouldn't be their maid,
so they did the cooking too." (tr. of Interview Marie-Adele Joredie With Author).
1.7 Statement of Dewe Gorodey:
"The word 'feminist' is more or less a pejorative term here.
As I was saying, women are not encouraged to become informed, to learn
what feminism is, and to learn about the history of the feminist
movement. I think it's through ignorance that the term 'feminist' is not
adopted here. Women are not even aware that if they have the right to
vote today it's because of the suffragette movement in England and in
France. On 8th March (2000), I was invited by the women in my district
for their Women's Day opening ceremony, and I took advantage of the
invitation to recount the history of the women's movement. I think that
women should know about women's combats in past times and throughout the
world,, and how those combats have contributed to Western democracy.
But they're ignorant. You also asked why women are not united here. I
think it's because political parties have a great influence here, and
women are first and foremost affiliated to a political party." (tr Interview of D. Gorodey with Author).
1.8 Statement of Mme. Tourte:
"I think feminist is understood to mean fight against men.
Kanak women want a balance. They think the struggle for independence,
for Kanaky, necessitates unity among the Kanak people; division must be
avoided. They think that if women oppose men, the common goal will not
be attained. They take feminism to be in opposition to men, but in fact
feminism means a combat by women for equal rights; its therefore a
matter of coming to an agreement together. We think that if men and
women have equal rights, that will make us stronger in order to attain
our goals. That's how we understand it. We've noticed the resistance of
Kanak women to term feminism. This may also be due to the history of
feminism- in France in the 70s feminist were extremist, for example
refusing to have children. Today of course it's not like that... Because
we're in a colonial situation, I think that Kanak women subordinate
their own internal problems to the struggle against colonialism. As soon
as we focus on their own situation in the tribes, and on the question
of the adjustment of customary rules to present reality, Kanak women are
reluctant to engage in a discussion. They say that they don't want to
disrupt Kanak society, because the Kanak people need to be unified and
strong... We shouldn't idealize a society, including Kanak society. In
all societies there are problems and things that need to be modified.
Because of the context in which we must defend ourselves against the
colonizer, we tend to idealize our society, and concentrate on external
aggression rather than examining the internal situation." (tr. Interview of Mme. Tourte With Author).
1.9 Dewe Gorodey explains why unity is required.
Her comments and perceptions about parity were remarkably insightful:
"You asked why women are not united here. I think it's because
political parties have a great influence here, and women are first and
foremost affiliated to a political party. I think there are a few women
who can transcend political divisions, and I think it's in our interest.
But you have to be open-minded, and I think it's not only women who are
not under the thumb of the political leaders. Those women realize that
women have to unite because there are problems which are specific to
women and which we most solve together, for example the problem of
rape-rape has nothing to do with political parties or race. To address
such issues women of all political persuasions can work together." (tr Interview of D. Gorodey with Author).
1.10 Statement of Dewe-Gorodie
"It's a question of power. Men are worried about and afraid of parity or
of women who speak out publicly, who are political activists-it's a
question of power. I think also that it's not surprising. Men have
reigned for millenniums, so naturally they don't want to give up their
power without a struggle. It's like that in all socieities. I hope that
women won't fall into the same traps; I hope they won't be drawn into
the negative aspects of power-corruption, dishonesty... Kanak men know
that they've lost their power with respect to Europeans because of
colonisation. So if they insist that parity is contrary to our custom,
it's because up till now the power they still had was customary power. I
think that's why they're worried about parity. But there is no need to
worry, because parity has nothing to do with custom. Parity doesn't come
from customary society. That's why I said before that we mustn't mix
things." (tr Interview with Author).
1.11 Statement of Marie-Adele Joredie:
"In Kanak society men have always had a much more prominent place than
women. They have power and rights. They forget to speak about duties.
Giving women a place would be to diminish their power. Their stance is
understandable, but I don't accept it. What can men do that women can't?
Women can do something than men can't-give birth. I think that men
aren't humble enough to recognize that power is human power, and that
humanity is made up of both men and women. Rather than being humble, men
are touchy, and sometimes say things that are unfair....Parity is a
Western law. The problem is that we have not succeeded in treating
custom and politics (European institutions and administration) as
separate things. Men have confused the two more than women. I think we
must make a distinction. The district (commune) is an administrative
structure; it is not a customary structure. The customary structure is
the chieftainship; a woman will never be able to be chief. But it is
possible that a woman could be a municipal councillor and mayor. The
woman is not a councillor of the tribe. I have always made this
distinction, but others have not. None of the political parties have
ever discussed this issue; how to distinguish between the two
structures. What usually happens is that one structure is superimposed
on the other. If I were mayor, I would not intervene in matters which
concerned the customary authorities which have their own rules for life
in the tribe. The administrative structure has its own domain of
responsibility, in particular in implementing the laws of the Territory.
I have seven children, three boys-they act differently depending on
whether they're in the tribe or at a political meeting... All laws here
are colonial laws. Parity represents a serious threat to male power.
It's natural that some men should object. But they should think of the
future; they won't be here in twenty years time. Our children don't want
the same world as us. They have had more education, and thus have the
means of expressing themselves. We should ask our children what they
think. My grand-daughter is in primary school; she told me that one day
she would take my place. That means my place as a teacher or in
politics. She's only nine years old. People who are against parity want
to keep society as it was before, but that's ridiculous. Things must
progress. I think that everyday practices determine whether needs are
stabilizing or destabilizing. For example in order for the mother to
have rights, she has to take actions which disturb traditional cultural
practices. It is wrongheaded for politicians to say that they accept
modernism and change, and at the same time to refuse change in everyday
practices. Kanak society has to evolve, and it's everyday problems which
will be the motor for change. It's true that traditions will be
disturbed, but in order to achieve a harmonious balance, there must
first be a disruption. If there is an equilibrium at a particular point
in time, there must have been an imbalance previously, and things were
changed in order to achieve an equilibrium again. That's how life is." (tr Interview of Marie Adele Joredie with Author).
1.12 Statement of Marie-Paul Tourte:
"When parity was being discussed, and even before with respect to the
early women's movement, Kanak men cautioned us, saying that our demands
would destabilize Kanak society. They said that in Kanak society women
and men had well-defined positions. They said that our demands for a
different status would endanger traditional values. So I think that this
is still the attitude of the customary authorities. What we try to get
them to understand is that parity is in fact a way of reinforcing
society. Today there are new problems which didn't exist before when
traditional life was the only way, for example problems with the young
people, and also in the tribes. Problems due to modern life. We say that
men and women have to work together to solve those problems in order to
ensure the stability of the society. The fact that a Kanak man is a
judge, a doctor, or a politician does not call into question his
customary role in the tribe. When he returns to the tribe he will act as
is appropriate to his place in the tribe, he will respect the chief and
custom, however important his functions may be in European
institutions. We say that it's the same for women. If women become
elected representatives, that does not mean that they will disrupt the
customary system when they return to their tribe. They will act in the
tribe in accordance with their customary role.
This issue encapsulates the complexity of New Caledonia today. Custom is
used to defend positions of power. For me custom is a matter of values
which exist also in other societies; the values of respect, unity,
community may be universal. I'm more attached to the spirit of custom
rather than to rules made by men in specific contexts. When men invoke
custom arguing that things will be disrupted, I think you have to
separate their interpretation of custom, and the spirit of custom. In
New Caledonia the term 'custom' is bandied about everywhere, and so used
in a sense which is too concrete. The sense of the values which
underpin the rules is lost. If we base our ideas on the customary values
such as respect, we can go very far in changing things, taking account
of the fact that things today are no longer like the situation 200 years
ago. It's true that some customary authorities use custom as an
instrument of power.
Men have not encouraged women. That's because they think it's not the
woman's place to be in a public position. Her place is in the home, with
the family and children. The public domain is the men's domain. This is
true not only for Kanaks, but also for the other communities. I think
that because of these attitudes it isn't easy for women to have access
to public positions; the attitudes tend to discourage them. Women also
have a different approach to politics from men. For men it's a matter of
power. Women are not interested in power games; they are sincere, they
want to get involved in politics in order to change things with the aim
of achieving a more just society. Some men distrust women because they
think women are ruled too much by their feelings. This is part of the
different approach to politics. I would say that before the law on
parity, women were discouraged due to men's attitudes. In the islands
prior to parity when some women tried to get into politics, they were
criticized severely by men." (tr Interview of Mme. Paul-Tourte With Author).
1.13 As Mme Tesser of the Indonesian Association
of New Caledonia has stated:
"women have different ideas, different points of view from
men, in both politics and everyday life. Men are divided in their
opinions on women in politics. But more and more women are speaking out,
because they have things to say, and want to play a part. Sometimes
women's points of view are very different from men's, so it's good that
women should be in politics." (tr Interview with Mme Bisio and Others, including this quotation from Mme. Tesser with Author).
1.14 Statement of Cecile Waka:
"[the law on parity] provides an additional opportunity for women
to have their say. It also represents the official recognition of the
important role that women play. Kanak women work a lot in the tribes.
Most often it is women who run the associations, and who help the young
people to decide what they want to do and to find work. Unfortunately
their contribution is not given the recognition it deserves... The Kanak
woman must respect Custom but that does not mean that she is inferior
to men. We are equal to men and we are complementary. In my tribe
(Ateou) women have been invited to take part in discussions of the
elders' council. This is progressive. It isn't like that in all
tribes... [as a municipal councillor for six years] I've been able to
speak out without any problem... In the tribes we are doing a lot of
consciousness-raising in order to encourage women's participation. I'm
sure it will be successful." Quoted by Xavier Serre, Les femmes de Knoe
fetent la parite, Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes, (Noumea, New Caledonia 9 March 2001.
1.15 Mme. Nicole Waia has also stressed the importance
of the female voice in generating an alternative and equally important perspective
and contribution in political decision making in New Caledonia:
"Women are mothers and every day they deal with the running of family
life which is itself a small society, they deal with the social and
educational problems of their children. It's very concrete. ..When women
are together they get on well. I have very good relations with women in
RPCR, the National Front, and the Alliance. When we see each other we
talk about our children, health problems, our daily lives, things which
are forgotten to some extent when we are playing a role in political
institutions. We are first of all women and we are able to disregard
political labels to get to the heart of issues. In this way we are more
sincere and less superficial." Quoted by Brigette Claudel, L'avenir de
nos enfants ne doit pas etre laisse aux seules main des hommes, Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes, (Noumea New Caledonia 5 July 2000).
1.16 Statement of Mr. Tonya:
"..when we were confronted with the city and modernity, women wanted to
express themselves differently. They wanted to participate more actively
in the life of the community. This is difficult to do in Kanak society,
because it's men who speak in public. To take an example, the
chairperson of the board of directors of ADCK is Mme Tjibaou, I'm the
executive head. This isn't a problem for me. When we go together to some
meeting or social event organized by the Europeans, she walks in front
of me, because she's my boss. I'm her 'employee.' She will tell me
whether I should speak or not. But when we go to the tribe, I will walk
in front, and she will be behind me. And when we participate in
customary events, it is I who will speak. We do this naturally without
even talking about it, because that's how it is in Kanak society. The
woman is important in both societies, but her role is different. I think
Kanak women are naturally more active than men, men take things easy.
Women bring up the children, they can never rest. Men do the heavy jobs,
hunting and fishing, then they rest. Women are dynamic, but at the same
time it's difficult for them to express themselves in customary society
which is rigid, so women were not entirely happy. So they had recourse
to a European structure, what are called '1901 associations.' Under
French law a group of people can form an association which is legally
recognized. So now there are a lot of women's associations. My wife is
in an association. I have no right to go to her association meeting and
prevent her from saying something. In these associations the women say
whatever they like; the traditional tribal structure did not allow them
to do that. So in this way they have appropriated the right to speak. At
the same time Kanak society has changed. Before our women would never
go to a meeting, they stayed at home and looked after the children while
the men went to meetings. But today men agree to look after the
children when the wife goes out, but they agree to do that because the
women are not going to a tribal meeting, but to a meeting of a European
structure. The women's associations are very active: they organize
fetes, they organize activities in the tribe. In my tribe at the
Conception there is a woman's association. They have frequent meetings,
they do all kinds of things, for example they organize a Christmas party
at the end of the year. We men wouldn't be capable of organizing that
event, all we do is sing and play the guitar. Women appropriated the
European structure of the 1901 association, which allows them to speak
out and organize activities. And due to this movement, women leaders
have emerged, women who speak out in their way, which we men don't
always understand....Roles have changed because women go to school now.
There are more Kanak women who obtain qualifications. Their educational
level allows them to express themselves. They also have access to means
of communication which didn't exist before. There are a lot of factors
which mean that they are well equipped intellectually. They are now
better equipped than men. They are able to express their ideas, and
since they are naturally dynamic, they are going ahead while men are
watching on the sidelines. Perhaps in the future it will be women who
run the country... I don't think women had much influence in the past.
Women started becoming interested in politics recently, within the last
ten years. I created the Independence movement radio station, Radio
Djiido. I trained the journalists who work there. I decided that women
should work there. It wasn't easy, because when we spoke into the
microphone, everybody in the country was listening. For example if a
woman was reading the news, and a girl had been raped somewhere, the
woman newsreader would refuse to say that on the air, because she was
worried that she would be accused of talking about sexual issues which
women were not allowed to talk about in the tribe. My response was to
say that the newsreader wasn't in the tribe, she wasn't in her family,
she had to disassociate from other roles and become an employee whose
role was to broadcast news. But that didn't mean that the Kanak woman
newsreader would be exactly like a European, because in broadcasting the
news she would know which words to use so as not to hurt or offend
anybody. So the first Kanak women who spoke on the radio were on Radio
Djiido. And now Kanak women speak publicly, for example Mme. Tjibaou.
They take part in discussions. That's a revolution here. We men have
begun listening to women. We have begun to realize that they have ideas,
whereas before we thought that women should adopt our point of view; if
they wanted to talk, they should do so in the kitchen. Today Kanak men
are acknowledging women's abilities. Women are not only important in
Kanak society, but in contemporary society they are able to convey
messages, promote projects, and do things that men themselves would
perhaps find it difficult to do. Women also have greater resolve: if
they say they will do something, they do it. It's like the story of the
hut I told before. Men will do something for two days then they'll go
off fishing... Elections are a modern concept of social organization. So
women should be able to play two different roles. A good example is the
one I gave earlier of Marie-Claude Tjibaou in relation to myself. Kanak
women can have an important place in European institutions, but I
wouldn't want Kanak women to become tribal chiefs, because then they
would not longer be Kanaks....imposing a law won't change people's
attitudes. The law is perceived as an affront because it comes from
outside; it's as if the chiefs were being ordered about. That feeling
should be taken into consideration. What needs to be done is to make men
understand that the presence of women is not a danger for the status of
men, and that women can make a useful contribution. Men need to
understand that responsibilities can be shared, just as they are shared
by the man and woman who live together as a couple. It would be better
that people themselves introduce changes. People need a bit of
encouragement but I think things could be changed without having
recourse to a law. Other means could be employed to encourage women to
get involved in politics. In fact, I think that we didn't' need a law:
women are ready to push for revolutionary change, to demand a place in
politics. I would have preferred it to happen like that." (tr Interview of Mr. Tonya with Author).
1.17 Statement of Marie-Claire Becalossi, President
of Melanesian Women's Associations:
"[Parity] will oblige men to give women a part of the power which they
have always held up until now. It will also encourage women to be more
active, rather than simply remaining in the background and criticizing.
It will change the way the country is run... Women are very capable. If
women enter the political sphere, they will be better administrators
than men. They will deal with issues efficiently and fairly, and they
will also make savings. Women are tougher in management than men. If
women get involved in politics, they will oust a number of men, and
those men won't know what to do..." (tr Interview of Marie Becalossi with Author).
1.18 Statement of Kanak leader Mr. Tonya, Executive
Director of the Tjibaou Cultural Center:
"... I don't think that the French should decide what is appropriate
for New Caledonia. We should be allowed to make our own decisions. This
is a basic problem... The only problem I have with parity is the way it
has been imposed... I think that [the presence of women] should be
natural. Someone shouldn't come and tell us what to do. What shows a
misunderstanding of how societies function: thinking that there is one
way which is appropriate for all societies." (tr Interview Transcript of Mr. Tonya with Author).
1.19 Statement of Marie-Adele Joredie:
"First of all, when the Matignon Accord was signed I was in
prison with other political activists. Jean-Marie told me that he
thought about me when he signed the Accord, about what I might say. I
said to him that we had chosen him as our leader, that he had made a
decision, and we would stand by him. The accord was signed on 26th June
and we were freed from prison in November; perhaps our release was part
of the accord. I think that the Noumea Accord is a step backwards
compared with the Matignon Accord, because the Matignon Accord had
stipulated a period of ten years for preparing our sovereignty, whereas
in the Noumea Accord the FLNKS signed for thirty years. I've also
supported the decisions of the FLNKS, but I don't understand why they
signed for thirty years whereas Jean-Marie had agreed to ten years. The
FLNKS has never justified their decision." (tr Interview Transcript of Marie-Adele Joredie with Author).
1.20 Statement of Marie-Claude Tjibaou:
"My husband was assassinated because ten years was too long for the Kanaks
at that time. He was in advance of his time. He knew that our country could
only become independent if we had access to the natural wealth of the country,
that is nickel. He thought it was necessary to have managerial staff and professionals
of all ethnic groups, not just Europeans. Today still we only have one Kanak
doctor, one Kanak judge; we don't have any dentists, chemists, or any chief
executives. In the Matignon and Noumea Accords our aspirations are addressed.
As a result of the Noumea Accord the FLNKS's claims with regard to access to
the mines has been concretized: the SMSP, Sofinor, etc. were established. We
don't want independence if others are deciding for us. We want to take part
in the decision-making. Whatever the future of this country, it will correspond
with the will of the people of the country to construct our country. During
the next 15 or 20 years, we must all devote our energy to constructing the country
together. That's what I believe in. So there must be greater social cohesion;
our politicians must be more united, they must work together. That doesn't mean
renouncing our goals. Layers of gas have just been discovered near our shores;
perhaps there is oil. We also have beautiful countryside, and a lot of space.
But what needs to be done is to redistribute the wealth of the city, so that
everyone has the same quality of life... During the negotiations preceding the
Noumea Accord, the FLNKS requested that France acknowledge the damage incurred
by the Kanak people. So it's an important part of the text of the Accord. It's
similar to the French President acknowledging the genocide of the Jewish people.
It's important for us in New Caledonia that France had simply assumed that this
country is French, and that the effects of colonization were not its concern.
Of course colonization was not all negative. When the French arrived the Kanaks
had been there for 3000 years; the French didn't discover anything, because
we were already there. But now at least the France is acknowledging the trauma
caused by its management of the native people. The Catholic Church in New Caledonia
also acknowledged the trauma caused. At the anniversary of the first mass in
New Caledonia which took place in the North, the Archbishop conducted a ceremony
of apology for the damage caused by the Catholic Church to Kanak culture.
(tr Interview of Marie-Claude Tjibaou with Author).
1.21 Kanak Dewe Gorodey, Vice President of New
Caledonia, stated recently in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting
"the real will of the people is to get to a situation where the people are
more open-minded and get the possibility to get more dialogue, more consultation
between the communities and between the pro-independence and the anti-independence
parties in New Caledonia... [the Noumea Accords is] the first time that the
French Government makes an [acknowledgement] of Kanak identity and of the need
to decolonize and to emancipate our people. [it is also an apology]... It's
a way to open the spirits and the minds of the people, that we can build another
world, another society, and get out the relations from the ones who colonise,
who are colonizers, and the colonized people. And it's really a draw and a hope
for the new generations." New Caledonia: 'no' to France; 'no' to independence;
'yes' to what? Interview with New Caledonian vice president First Broadcast
last visited 14/12/04.
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