Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bastille Day & The French Constitution

Today is Bastille Day, the national holiday of France.  The French Constitution (known as the Constitution of the Fifth Republic) begins:

The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789, confirmed and complemented by the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946, and to the rights and duties as defined in the Charter for the Environment of 2004.
By virtue of these principles and that of the self-determination of peoples, the Republic offers to the overseas territories that express the will to adhere to them new institutions founded on the common ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity and conceived with a view to their democratic development.
Article 1. France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. It shall be organised on a decentralised basis.

The "secular" aspect of the French Republic has been the subject of much debate in the last decade, centering on government regulations of women and girls wearing Muslim dress.  The l'affaire du voile or the veil (or scarf or hijab) controversies pit notions of secularism and national identity against religious and cultural minorities, as well as invoking issues of gender equality.  The French Constitution provides that all French citizens "of either sex" may vote, Article III, but does not include a general gender equality provision. 

The Constitution also provides that "The Republic shall recognise the overseas populations within the French people in a common ideal of freedom, equality and fraternity."  Art. 72-3.  The legacy of French colonialism was evident - - - and another source of controversy - - - in today's celebrations the parade featured armies from former french colonies, some of whom have been accused of being responsible for war crimes.  


Comparative Constitutionalism, Current Affairs, Gender, International | Permalink

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