FRANCE is to enact sweeping changes to its sexual equality laws on a par with granting women the vote and legalising abortion, a minister has declared.
The proposals will include "ABC of gender equality" lessons for children as young as six, the threat of imposing equal pay for men and women in the same jobs and tougher laws on domestic violence.
"This will become the third generation of equality legislation after women were given the right to vote in 1944 and abortion was legalised in 1975," said Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the women's rights minister.
She made the comments on the day France called its first cross-ministry meeting on women's rights in 12 years.
Draft laws outlined yesterday will allow the courts to accelerate restraining orders and trials for violent male partners and provide women considered under threat of violence with free emergency mobile phones to alert police.
Employers will be inspected to ensure men and women receive equal pay, and could be forced by law to raise a woman's salary or lower a man's to ensure fairness in large firms.
Starting next year, children will be given lessons in sexual equality while at primary school.
The aim, said Miss Vallaud-Belkacem, was to "deconstruct stereotypes" ingrained in French society.
France trumpets being the guardian of human rights, translated as droits de l'homme (men's rights), but it languishes in 57th place in the World Economic Forum's 2012 gender equality report, behind countries such as Venezuela and Kyrgyzstan. It ranks almost last on the wage equality index – 129th out of 135 countries.
Studies suggest that women earn 27pc less than men for the same type of job, and their pensions are 40pc below that of men.
The campaign on gender equality came in a week that France's former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, declared that women did not need to be feminist and suggested that a woman's place was in the home with her children.
"We need everyone to be a feminist," said Miss Vallaud-Belkacem. "Feminism is the fight for the equality of sexes, not for the domination of one sex over another."
The changes come six months after MPs were condemned by feminists when some wolf-whistled at a female minister who walked into the parliamentary chamber wearing a floral, knee-length dress.
The new offence of "psychological violence" – aimed at protecting women from abusive men – covers violent threats, false accusations of infidelity and insults. (© Daily Telegraph, London)