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Celebrating 100 years of women's suffrage

"Parity must be our objective"

The Chancellor has praised the introduction of women’s suffrage in Germany as an important "fight for what is a human right". In spite of all the progress that has been made towards achieving equality, she said, there is still a lot to do. "Quotas were important, but parity must be our objective," declared Angela Merkel at the official celebrations in Berlin, which she hosted jointly with Franziska Giffey, Federal Minister for Women.   

Chancellor Angela Merkel during a panel discussion with Raffaela Rein (left to right), Minister Franziska Giffey, Chair Nazan Gökdemir and politician Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit The introduction of women's suffrage in Germany was a major milestone in the history of democracy," said Angela Merkel Photo: Bundesregierung/Steins

Jacinda Ardern is an important face in gender equality from the other end of the world. The Prime Minister of New Zealand gave birth to a daughter in June. That makes her only the second woman in the world, after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, to have a baby while head of government.  

Jacinda Ardern was a surprise guest at the official celebrations in the German Historical Museum in Berlin. In a video message she offered her congratulations on the 100th anniversary of the introduction of women’s suffrage in Germany. This is another area in which New Zealand was particularly progressive. In 1893 New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote. Germany was one of the first European countries to do so, in 1918.

"A major milestone in history"

"That was a major milestone in the history of democracy," declared Chancellor Angela Merkel. Women at that time demonstrated great courage. As late as 1902 the Prussian Minister of the Interior explained that women were too excitable, which would be too much of an irritation for the people, so politics was not for them.

Angela Merkel pointed out that the trailblazers who fought for women’s suffrage back then were not fighting for a specific group but "for a human right". What was at stake was equality. "Only a society in which equality is alive and well can be a just society," said the Chancellor.    

Proud of changes

Federal Minister for Women, Franziska Giffey, said that 12 November 1918 was a date that changed Germany – for the better. "We can also be proud of what women have achieved since then".

There was a consensus at the celebrations that huge progress has been made towards gender equality in recent years.

Suffrage was only the start

"Suffrage was only the start – but it was a very important start," stressed the Chancellor. Progress cannot be said to have been rapid. She gave the example of a provision from Germany’s Civil Code under which a wife required her husband’s approval before she was allowed to work outside the house – until 1977.

A lot of progress has now been made in the working world, she reported. At the end of 2017 71.5 per cent of women aged between 15 and 64 were in work – a rise of 12 per cent as compared to 2005.

Reconciling family and professional commitments

Angela Merkel stated that a number of regulations have made it very much easier to combine family commitments with a profession. She gave the examples of the parental allowance, parental leave which can also be taken by new fathers and the legal entitlement to a place at nursery for young children.

Angela Merkel also pointed out that the German government intends to invest a total of 5.5 billion euros in improving the quality of child care by 2022. And an act of parliament has been launched that will enable women and men to return to full-time from part-time working.

Much has been achieved, said Angela Merkel. "Today nobody laughs when a girls says she wants to be a Cabinet minister or Chancellor" – and that was not always the case.

A lot of work ahead

But that makes it all the more important to fight for "complete equality", which we still do not have. One important example cited by the Chancellor is the percentage of women in Germany’s parliament. This is an "elementary question of our democracy". The fact that only about 31 per cent of the members of the Bundestag are women is "nothing to be proud of". The parties must "break new ground here".

In other areas too, industry, administration and culture, women should account for a significantly higher percentage of the total. It shouldn’t be anything special when a women becomes executive director of a DAX-listed corporation. It should simply be the "first step on the way to normality" said Angela Merkel. She stressed, "Quotas were important, but parity must be our objective."

The celebration included a panel discussion with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal Minister for Women Franziska Giffey, the start-up entrepreneur Raffaela Rein and Hamburg’s former Justice Senator Lore Maria Peschel-Gutzeit. One point discussed was the "Lex Peschel" – in 1968 the lawyer managed to get a regulation introduced allowing certain groups including female judges and civil servants to take sabbaticals to raise their children. The start-up entrepreneur Raffaela Rein called for equal pay for women and men.          

Too few women in STEM professions

Both the Chancellor and the Federal Minister for Women expressed their regret that there are still too few women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) professions. Franziska Giffey said that technology companies often report that they cannot recruit good women. "We should never simply accept that at face value," declared the minister. "Companies too are called on to make more of an effort".

Enhancing the status of social professions

Franziska Giffey also announced that she would like to see an enhancement of the status of social professions in which many women do work. "100 years ago people discussed how social occupations were becoming more professional. Today we are discussing how pay can become more professional".

Gender equity can only be achieved if we work together

Angela Merkel and Franziska Giffey expressed their conviction that it is important to involve men, and consider them too in all the changes and improvements needed to achieve gender equality. "I believe that we can only achieve equity and fairness in our society by working together and not by working against one another," declared Angela Merkel. "Nevertheless I hope we don’t have to wait another 100 years."

12 November 1918 is considered to mark the birth of women’s suffrage in Germany. Since then women in Germany have been able to cast their vote and stand for election. To celebrate the 100th anniversary, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Minister for Women Franziska Giffey hosted an official event held at Berlin’s German Historical Museum.  

The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs has also launched an anniversary campaign along with the European Academy for Women in Politics and Economics, with the motto "Fighting for equal rights – what are you fighting for?"

Nov 12, 2018