Updated: 26-Mar-2002 Committee on Women in NATO Forces

Special Edition




Women have always contributed directly to the operation of the Armed Forces whether in peacetime or wartime. The Second World War put women in the French Forces on the "map", so to speak. They had already been serving since 1938, but only on a civilian basis. On November 7, 1940, the Women's Corps attached to the Free French Forces was created in London. This gave rise to the opportunity for women to serve as ambulance orderlies and in the First Aide Corps. In 1943, the Rochambelles Corps, consisting of nurses and first aide personnel was created. Female staff personnel took part in campaigns in Tunisia, Italy, France and Germany. Additionally, some served in Indochina and North Africa.

In 1951, the French Parliament adopted a specific status for female personnel. The passage of the 13 July 1972 law gave women the same status as their male counterparts, which became entrenched with a provisional decree in 1973. On May 9, 1985, the Ministry of Defence instituted a number of measures aimed at ensuring women were better integrated within the military community.

Currently, the French Armed Forces are entering a period of transformation, which includes the end of compulsory national service by the year 2002. This change should have a direct influence on the recruitment of women in the military.


Women are now integrated in all the Services: Army, Navy, Air Force, Gendarmerie, and the Medical Service under the command of the Chief of Defence. They work and train with their male counterparts. Quotas were terminated in February 1998. There is no compulsory service for women in France, however, as of the year 2000, girls born after December 31, 1982 must attend a one-day course to prepare them for national defence.

General Policies

Equal opportunity in the Armed Forces is afforded to women without theoretical limitations. Military law complies with common law regulations concerning sexual harassment and adds additional punishment of a disciplinary and statutory nature. Basically, sexual harassment comes under a broad legal framework that punishes infractions and misdemeanours in general linked to various forms of discrimination, whether racial, religious or sexual.

The French Armed Forces have set policies regarding maternity and parental leave. Maternity leave is linked to active duty; servicewomen maintain all rights concerning remuneration, promotion, retirement, etc. There is also an adoption leave policy which works similar to the maternity leave policy from a statutory point of view. The parental leave policy applies to women and men in six-month intervals until the child is three years old. From a statutory position, any person using the latter type of leave is no longer considered on active duty. Therefore, the person receives no pay from the armed forces, but still receives all the benefits of the French "social security" system, i.e. family allowance, reimbursement of health care, etc.


Due to rules, which may vary from one service to another, access to some specialities (infantry, armoured, the French Foreign Legion, submarines, marine commandos, and the Special Forces of the Gendarmerie) may be restricted. In the Army, women can fill all posts in their rank and specialised trade with the exception of those trades involving the possibility of direct and prolonged contact with hostile forces. Eligibility requirements for employment in the French Forces are the same for women and men, and they have the same opportunities for promotion as their male counterparts. However, the redefinition of the employment of women and men is currently under study in the Army.

A number of women are assigned to operational regiments or on board Navy vessels. There are two general female officers (one in the Air Force and one in the Medical Service) and five female Colonels in the French Armed Forces. In the Navy, command posts at sea and ashore are open to women who meet the required qualifications. Naval vessels continue their refurbishment to accommodate female personnel.

Since the 1980s, France has undertaken a number of measures to integrate women, from common basic training, except in the Army, to access to all non-flying NCO trades without quotas (even in some commando branches since 1998).

Women have served in the Gendarmerie since the early 1980s and in the Medical Service since 1952. Personnel frequently work humanitarian missions and foreign operations under the same conditions


Women make up 8.55% of the total force. The female officer corps consists of 500 in the Army, 232 in the Navy, the Air Force with 348, the Gendarmerie with 33, and the Medical Service with 2,865. Women in the officer corps make up approximately 4.97%, NCOs - 8.86%, enlisted volunteers - 5.2%, and MDR - 9.89%.

In the Army, the management and promotion of female officers and NCO personnel follow the same rules and go through the same departments as the men. Servicewomen serve in transportation, signals, ordnance, administration, supply and other specialities.

Career progression for women in the Navy is the same as their male counterparts. The exception is women who are mothers and were on active duty before January 1, 1999, must volunteer for sea duty. All personnel who join the Navy after January 1, 1999 are eligible for sea duty regardless of rank or family status. Sea trials for women began in the mid-1980s and took effect in 1993. Today, eight warships include mixed gender crews and the addition of the aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, in the summer of 2000, almost doubled the number of women on board French naval vessels. Women at sea serve as helicopter pilots, watch officers, helmsmen, electricians, administration personnel, cooks, and missile engineers. Naval vessels continue refurbishing efforts to accommodate female personnel onboard.

Over the years, the Air Force has pragmatically increased the number of women. In addition to measures implemented in 1980, the Decree of August 1995 authorised women to compete for fighter pilot positions. Access to higher military studies is open to women without restriction and some hold posts as Air Base Commander.

Women have been allowed to join the Gendarmerie Officer Corps since 1983 by Article 3 of the Decree on the special status of the Gendarmerie Officer Corps. Women in this Service serve mainly in the field (82.1%), in either the Home Defence Brigade or in Criminal Investigation units.


Recruitment of women should be positively affected with the termination of compulsory national service by 2002. The Decree of February 1998 removed any mention of theoretical limitation to women's access to a military career. With the removal of quotas and quantitative limitations, women recruited by the colleges will depend exclusively on their past standing in various competitions. In its women's recruiting policy, the Army has decided to reach the intermediate goal of 10%. In 1998, 49 officers were recruited.

With the exception of posts in the Navy, such as submarines and marine commando branches, women are allowed to serve in all other fields and serve in a ship with their assigned unit. In 1999, the Navy recruited 30 female officers.

The allowable percentage of women in the Air Force has risen from 15% in 1977, when the Air Force College was open to women, to 20% in the last few years. Since 1992, 29 female officers have been recruited by the Gendarmerie and an Army Captain joined the Gendarmerie Officer Corps in August 1998, after completing her training on the Senior Course at the National Gendarmerie Officer College.

Between 1973 and 1997, the average acceptance rate of women doctors to school was 15%. With the removal of acceptance quotas to entrance examinations in 1998, there was a significant increase in the number of women in Medical Service Training Schools (doctors, pharmacist, veterinarians, and biologists). The percentage of women in these schools increased to 31.5%, with a first year acceptance rate of 39.7%. All Medical Service branches are currently open to women.


Training is identical for women and men in the Air Force, Gendarmerie, and the Medical Service. Physical requirements are adapted to female personnel. The Army is currently transitioning from conscription to a professional army and has plans to reorganise it posts by trade, areas of competence and branches, the majority of which will have posts open to women.

Women have been allowed in the Naval Academy since 1993 and receive the same training and diplomas as their male colleagues. They have the same access to training corresponding to the posts open to them.

The Air Force College has been opened to women since 1977 and they train equally with the men. Women have been allowed to compete for transport pilot positions since 1983 and fighter pilot positions since 1995.


Female personnel (officers, NCOs and troops) frequently work in humanitarian missions and foreign operations under the same conditions as men. Since 1995, women have deployed in support of IFOR and continue to deploy today in support of SFOR. The first Gendarmerie female officer to serve in an overseas operation was a squadron commander in Albania. Numerous NCOs served in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and in other theatres.

Recent and Projected Developments

The major development currently underway is the preparation for the transition from a conscription to a professional French Armed Forces. This should directly affect the recruitment of women in the military. The February 1998 Decree, removing all quotas and mention of theoretical limitations to women's access to military careers, will also affect recruitment.

The Status of Volunteer in the Armed Forces was created in 1998. The program was only open to men who had attended the call-up day, however, it will be opened to women in 2000 and to men who have completed their national service obligations. The aim is to accommodate women serving under a female military volunteer contract and increase the female strength of the Armed Forces.


Women have made significant strides in the French Armed Forces over the years and continue to do so. Women are serving their country with pride and are also able to lead a family life with the provision of maternity and parental leave policies. The Armed Forces enable those women who choose to have a career the opportunity to fulfil their goals and train equally with their male colleagues.

National Co-ordination Office

Ministère de la Défense
Etat-Major des Armées
14, Rue Saint-Dominique
00456 Armées
Tel: +331-42-19-32-73
Fax: +331-42-19-68-45

National Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces

Lieutenant Colonel Françoise Français-Cros (FRAF)
26 Boulevard Victor
00-460 Armees
Tel: +33-145-529012
Fax: +33-145-522070
E-mail: chefcabcemaa@emaa.air.defense.gouv.fr

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