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France to consider feminising job titles

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By Shafi Musaddique
Dominique Bona, one member of the commission, Académie Française
Dominique Bona, one member of the commission, Académie Française   -   Copyright  KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP   -  

The gatekeepers of the French language could soon be introducing new words to cover feminine alternatives for all occupations.

The Academie Francaise, which is in charge of authorising words into the French language and responsible for compiling the French dictionary, said on Thursday that it is seeking to feminise job titles in order to “reduce of this gap” with male terms.

The majority of job titles are by default masculine, with exceptions such as nurse (infermiere) or childminder (nourrice) exacerbating old stereotypes on women in work.

The Academie has traditionally been resistant to approving major changes in French but seems to be considering a U-turn in a report produced by members.

“There is no obstacle in principle to the feminisation of the names of trades and professions”, the Academie report said.

"The Academie considers that all developments in the language aimed at recognising the place women have in society today can be envisaged.”

In most cases, feminine forms will just need the addition of ‘e’ at the end of the male alternative.

Examples include;

- 'Maire' ('Mayor' in French) could be 'mairesse' for women

- 'Sapeur-pompier' ('Fireman' in French) could be 'sapeuse-pompière' for women

The governing authority said the use of –eure in docteure did not pose “a threat to the structure of the language” if the final ‘e’ remained silent.

A vote will come later in March on whether to rubber stamp the female-friendly versions for professions.

Critics have long campaigned for the French language to reform its male-centric structure.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has previously publically stated his support for a female-inclusive form of the language, whereby the “masculine is a neutral form which should be used for terms liable to apply to women”.

In 2015, France's High Council for Equality Between Women and Men issued a guide urging public bodies to use feminine forms for jobs like "firefighter" and "author" where applicable.