Thursday, October 28, 2021

As Merkel bids farewell, German women wish for greater equality

Germany’s first female Chancellor Angela Merkel has been admired by many for her insightful leadership in a turbulent world and celebrated by some as a feminist icon. But a look at his 16-year track record at the top of Germany reveals missed opportunities to fight gender inequality at home.

Named “The World’s Most Powerful Woman” by Forbes magazine for the past 10 years, Merkel has been chosen as a powerful defender of liberal values ​​in the West. She has easily stood her ground in male-dominated summits with leaders such as former US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Millions of women admire the 67-year-old for breaking the glass ceiling of male dominance in politics, and has been lauded as an influential role model for girls.

On trips to Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Merkel has often made it a point to visit women’s rights projects. She has always emphasized that providing women in poor countries better access to education and work is the key to the development of those countries.

But when it comes to the status of women in Germany, Merkel – who said in 2018 that she would not run for re-election in this Sunday’s general election – has been criticized for using her position to push for greater gender equality. Not done to give.

Alice Schwarzer, Germany’s most famous feminist, said, “One thing is clear: a woman has shown that women can do it.” “However, a woman chancellor alone is not for emancipation.”

Schwarzer, a 78-year-old women’s rights activist, the most prominent founding member of the German women’s liberation movement, is both loved and hated in the country.

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“She’s the first one to make it to the top,” said Schwarzer, who has met Merkel for one-on-one dinners several times over the years. ? Honestly, not much.”

German women have also suffered some setbacks during Merkel’s reign. Before Merkel took office in 2005, 23% of federal lawmakers for her centre-right union bloc were women. Today the figure is 19.9%. Germany is the best choice for the party, with only 10.9% having fewer female MPs.

Germany lags behind other European countries in terms of equal political representation.

According to the EU statistics agency Eurostat, in 2020, the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments and governments in Germany was 31.4%, lower than Sweden’s 49.6%, Belgium’s 43.3% or Spain’s 42.2%.

Even in the working world of Germany, women are second-class citizens. Last year, only 14.6% of top-level managers at large listed German companies were women. Germany also has the largest gender pay gap in the European Union, with women earning 18% less than men in 2020, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

Some experts say Merkel has pushed for more power for women in indirect ways.

“Angela Merkel did not do her job with a claim to support women or to use her role as chancellor to make gender equality her vested interest,” said Julia Reushenbach, a political analyst at the University of Bonn. “However, she did a great job promoting other women in politics.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech during a debate on ‘The State of the European Union’ at the European Parliament on September 15, 2021 in Strasbourg, France. (Reuters/Yves Herman/Pool)

Merkel cabinet veteran, Ursula von der Leyen, became the first female president of the European Commission in 2019. Annegret Kramp-Karenbauer succeeded Merkel as leader of her Christian Democratic Union in 2018, although she failed to exert her authority over the party and stepped down earlier. this year.

In 2007, von der Leyen, who was at the time the Minister of Families in Merkel’s cabinet, pushed through a progressive reform of the country’s child-rearing allowance, which allowed fathers to pay some parental allowances after the birth of the child. encouraged to take leave. However, it was one of the few legal changes during the Chancellor’s tenure that actively sought to improve the status of women.

One reason for Merkel’s reluctance to fight more openly for feminist issues in Germany may be her own struggle to rise to the top of German politics, Schwarzer said.

“Merkel has been hit hard as a woman,” he said, especially early in her political career. “He didn’t expect it, so it may be a reason why he didn’t choose the fact that she’s a woman who is his central subject.”

Schwarzer said that influential men in his conservative, traditionally West German and Catholic-dominated party did not welcome the Protestant former East German physicist with open arms, and that male politicians from other parties did not initially treat him with respect. did.

German journalists’ comments on Merkel’s appearance were often openly sexist, especially in the beginning. German media at first dubbed her “Köhl’s girl”, as Merkel was initially promoted by then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and later called her “Mutti,” or “mother”, even though Merkel has no children.

Leonie Pauw, a 24-year-old election campaign manager in Berlin, was eight years old when Merkel came to power, so she says it was the most common thing for her to have a female chancellor.

Pow, who grew up in southwestern Germany, said, “It was only in school, when I began to have political awareness, that I realized how much it meant, especially for the older generation, that a woman is leading Germany. ” “When I understood that, it made me proud too.”

Nonetheless, Pauw believes that Merkel could have done more for women’s rights and said that none of Merkel’s cabinets achieved gender equality in her four terms.

“I wish there would be as many women in the future as men represent us,” Pow said.

When Merkel herself was asked in 2017 if she was a feminist, she bluntly replied, “I don’t want to embellish myself with a title I don’t have.”

It is only in the last few years that Merkel has actively taken up this topic and called for greater gender equality in Germany. In 2018, as Germany marked the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, she said in a speech in Berlin to loud applause from a mostly female audience that there was still much to be done to achieve gender equality.

“The goal should be equality, equality everywhere,” she said. “I hope it becomes natural for women and men to divide work, raise children, and do household chores equally… and I hope it won’t take another 100 years to get there.”

Merkel has spoken little about her experiences of discrimination or her personal life and her husband, quantum chemist Joachim Sauer, has kept a low public profile.

Over the past few weeks, Merkel has taken a remarkable step in advancing women’s rights, declaring in a discussion with women in Düsseldorf: “I am a feminist.”

“Yes, we should all be feminists,” she said.

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