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French Feminists Unhappy With Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy courted female voters during the run-up to the last elections, but since he took office, women’s rights has taken a back seat to other issues, feminists say.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, second from the right, poses with some of his female ministers

Sarkozy has given women top jobs in his cabinet

French President Nicolas Sarkozy courted female voters during the run-up to the last elections, saying that France should take the lead in pushing for women's rights. But feminists feel this was a mere political tactic to keep French women from voting en masse for his female opponent, socialist candidate Segolene Royal.

Feminists feel Sarkozy's given the women's rights issue very little attention since taking office just over a year ago.

One vocal Sarkozy critic is Emmanuelle Piet, a doctor who has been involved in promoting the campaign against domestic violence for the past quarter century. Piet currently serves as president of an aid organization for battered women.

"Sarkozy has already been in office for a year and he has caused problems from the beginning on," she said. "When he formed his government, he did not establish any ministry to deal with issues of women's rights or equality.”

Sarkozy accused of lack of interest

French presidential candidate Segolene Royal talks on the phone

Sarkozy didn't want to lose women's votes to Royal

In 1981, Francois Mitterrand launched a Ministry for Women's Rights, which put France at the forefront in Europe on the issue. Since then, each government has included women's rights and equality as part of its portfolio, or at least assigned a secretary of state to the issue.

When Sarkozy took the helm in May 2007, he added female politicians to his team, but not nearly as many as he promised during the elections. Yet his government is proud that top posts have been filled by women including that of Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Justice Minister Rachida Dati.

For Piet, having women as ministers doesn't make up for the lack of a women's ministry. She also has been worried by reports that the State Office for Women's Rights might be closed. The office ensures that women have access to abortions and deals with other privacy issues.

"In short, one notices a big disinterest in respect to the government's involvement in women's rights,” she said.

Little help for trafficking victims

Profile of victim of human trafficking

Sarkozy has been accused of insensitivity to victims of human trafficking

This opinion is backed up by Francoise Laurant, president of the family planning organization MFPF. During the run-up to the elections, the group requested meetings with all of the major mainstream candidates. Sarkozy was the only one who did not reply, said Laurant.

“That was the first alarm signal for us,” she said.

Yet there were signals that Sarkozy would take a more conservative line on issues such as prostitution. As interior minister, he helped usher through a series of laws in 2003 which went after prostitutes who engaged in so-called “passive solicitation.”

While the term's meaning is not completely clear, it has amounted to a declaration of war on foreign prostitutes. The majority of these women are victims of illegal human trafficking networks.

In order to be eligible for help from the French government, they have to be willing to turn in their tormenters, people often involved in criminal networks. If they are unwilling to do so, they face deportation.

This practice of deporting prostitutes has been strongly criticized by the United Nations organization which is trying to put an end to human trafficking.

Feminists decry "victimization"

Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy has seemed distracted by his love life

The president has been active in providing more state help to victims of domestic violence. While Sarkozy has taken on this issue as one that is close to his heart, Laurant from the MFPF remains skeptical.

“In Sarkozy's speeches are always only about victims and that they need to be defended. For feminists, that makes our blood run cold,” Laurant said.

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