But Lopez, who took to the streets on Thursday as part of a nationwide strike, says that raising the retirement age to 64 from 62 and the number of years workers must pay in from 42 to 43 to receive a full pension will make it even harder for women to qualify.

Like many women, Lopez took six months of maternity leave and worked part time a few years for childcare. Men can take paternity leave, but it is usually much shorter.

We need to live life in good health and not be completely broken by the time we retire
Maryse Lopez, French nurse

“We need to live life in good health and not be completely broken by the time we retire,” Lopez said.

Her worries were echoed by other women Reuters spoke to at the protest. Opinion polls show most French oppose the measure and more than a million people joined the protests on Thursday.

Under the existing rules, French women’s pensions are already 40 per cent lower than men’s, according to government data.

Lopez, 50, could retire now at 57 due to the strenuous nature of her work. She would get 850 euros a month if she did but she says she would need to work until 64 to get a larger pension she could live on reasonably.

She fears she will not be able to retire until even later. Anyone who has not paid into the system for long enough has to wait until 67 to receive a full pension - an age that will not change under the plans.

“Women already have huge problems to have a full contribution period due to maternal leave and part time work they take to take care of children,” Lea Lejeune, founder of feminist financial media outlet Plan Cash, said.

The government has said that women will be better off under the reform because it is not raising the 67 age threshold.

It says the reform will allow the parental leave of 3,000 more women every year to be taken into account for their pension contributions.

It says the reform is vital to ensure the system does not go bust. Pushing back the retirement age by two years and extending the pay-in period would bring an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.1 billion) in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027, according to Labour Ministry estimates.

However, the reality is that simply working longer is easier said than done as many people over the age of 55 already struggle to find work because employers often encourage people to retire early in order to hire younger, cheaper colleagues.

“After 55, women have a lot of trouble of staying in work,” Lejeune said.

($1 = 0.9252 euros)