Community Europe has equipped itself with institutional and legal means to achieve “the social dimension of the internal market”, in which the principle of equality between men and women is inscribed. A whole system of references, tools, instruments and action programs contribute to the construction of this supranational policy. Thus, since 1984, the European Commission has recommended in particular that the Member States set up programs, called positive action plans in companies, the objective of which is to correct inequalities in the management of human resources. Consequently, France and Spain are subject to the same community injunctions. It was moreover in the first half of the 1980s that the notion of a positive action plan was imposed in these two countries.
The choice to grasp the way in which a community education fits into two national public action systems is part of the questions relating to the interactions between European dynamics and national specificities in a field of comparative research that has not yet been explored: that of the policies of equal opportunities between men and women. In this perspective, the conceptualization process and that of institutional implementation of positive action plans in companies in two Member States such as France and Spain constitute an ideal laboratory. The comparison will serve to reveal not only the national logics of public action in this field but also the conceptual systems in which they fit.
In the European discourse, from the impetus of the United Nations to the conceptualization and construction of instruments. France and Spain, as signatory states of treaties and conventions, submit to these same supranational instructions whether they come from the United Nations, the European Commission, the Council of Europe or the International Labor Office. In the second part, the aim is to identify how these two countries interpret and appropriate more particularly the notion of positive action in their normative system, and how they translate it concretely into their intervention mechanisms.
The comparison reveals that the terms professional equality and equal opportunities have no strict because they correspond to two distinct categories of public policies. The last part of the article also deals with the diversified paths taken by the institutional strategies deployed in the direction of companies and by the display methods of the intervention systems. The comparative approach thus highlights national differences in substance and form specific to the logics of action at work to achieve the same objective. The heuristic interest of this approach is also to reveal the presence of two distinct conceptual systems, which refer to different lexical universes.
Positive actions or “temporary special measures” are part of the long process of building a Community policy on equality between men and women in the labor market. They were first promoted by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, then developed during major world conferences on women. Positive actions are tools belonging to the supranational normative framework to which the signatory states of the treaties are subject.
The Preliminary Impetus of the United Nations
5Before the European Commission, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women adopted numerous conventions to promote equality measures in member states, including the one on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. Adopted in 1979 by the General Assembly, it declares that “the adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating the establishment of equality between men and women is not considered to be an act of discrimination as whereas it is defined by this convention, but must in no way result in the maintenance of unequal or distinct standards; these standards must be repealed as soon as the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved.
Later, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, established in 1981, regarded what is affirmative action as a strategy – or program of action – intended to “establish equal opportunities. in practice thanks to measures which make it possible to avoid or correct discrimination resulting from practices or social systems ”. These programs aim to act on social mechanisms and correct processes, practices or situations that tend to exclude women from business development. They provide for the analysis of sources of discrimination within companies. The Council of Europe will use the same definition.