Angela Merkel’s legacy: women at the head of German society

Even though Germany has been ruled by Angela Merkel for 16 years, the reality for women in Germany has been remarkably less progressive. In parliament, women hold only 35% of seats, while only three of Germany’s 16 states are headed by women. In the corporate sector in Germany, men dominate, with more than 600 male executives and only 93 women on the boards of directors of the companies making up the main German stock indexes.

But as a new cabinet gets to work in Germany, the former chancellor’s greatest legacy may be to chart a course for the women who will follow. New Chancellor Olaf Scholz has appointed eight women to his cabinet, including key foreign affairs, security and defense positions in Europe’s economic powerhouse. This makes the gender balance in his office exactly 50-50, representing the society in which Germans live.

“It’s definitely a strong symbolic sign. Already under Merkel, women in political leadership appeared more and more frequently, even in right-wing parties, ”explains Annette Henninger, professor of politics and gender relations at Philipps University in Marburg. “Now it looks like gender stereotypes are really starting to change. “

Why we wrote this

Labels, good or bad, often make little sense. This is why Angela Merkel’s refusal to call herself a feminist did not prevent women from gaining power in today’s Germany.

Berlin

Angela Merkel, the former German chancellor, refused to call herself a feminist. But after stepping down last year after 16 years in office, it is now clear that her strongest legacy could be the path she has opened for other women.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has appointed eight women to his cabinet, including key foreign affairs, security and defense positions in Europe’s economic powerhouse. This makes the gender balance in her practice exactly 50-50.

“We are sure that it is the right thing to do (…) which represents the society in which we live, in which men and women each make up half of the population and in which it should be normal for women have half the power, ”he added. Mr Scholz said at a press conference last month announcing the picks.

Why we wrote this

Labels, good or bad, often make little sense. This is why Angela Merkel’s refusal to call herself a feminist did not prevent women from gaining power in today’s Germany.

There’s a lot to be done, like closing the gender pay gap, offering paternity leave, and encouraging more women into STEM fields. But many experts see gender parity in Cabinet as an important first step towards progress for Germany, which has lagged behind many traditional indicators.

“It’s definitely a strong symbolic sign. Already under Merkel, women in political leadership appeared more and more frequently, even in right-wing parties, ”explains Annette Henninger, professor of politics and gender relations at Philipps University in Marburg. “Now it looks like gender stereotypes are really starting to change. “

Rising

Ms Merkel has long been a rare leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). And, while her rise as German Chancellor has been hailed around the world – during President Donald Trump’s tenure, she was often seen as the last defender of liberal democracy – the women at home have enjoyed limited success under its direction.

As Chancellor, Merkel appointed Germany’s first and second female defense ministers, Ursula von der Leyen and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. But Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer struggled to consolidate power within her political party and then withdrew from politics. Annalena Baerbock’s meteoric rise as the Green Party candidate for chancellor lasted only a few weeks, and she was fiercely attacked online and in the media. The treatment, experts said, was rooted in gender bias.

After appointing women to head half of the German cabinet – including key positions in foreign affairs, security and defense – Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “Security will be in the hands of strong women in the world. this government.

Ms Merkel herself has never proclaimed a strong position on women’s rights, perhaps because she could not in a political world dominated by men. She had spoken out on the need to put more women on the boards of German companies, but in the CDU she had to be cautious.

“She certainly experienced enough misogyny in her day – in the 90s the CDU was full of terrible men,” said Ursula Münch, political scientist and current director of the independent think tank Academy for Political Education in Bavaria.

“Empowering women was never something Merkel did openly,” she says. “She didn’t consciously play this card because she knows that with this card you can only win those who are already on your side.”

In Berlin in 2017, when Merkel was asked if she was a feminist, she responded with a bland non-response: “To be honest, the story of feminism is a story I have in common but also differences, and I don’t want to beautify myself with a title that I don’t have.

Indeed, the reality for women in Germany has been remarkably less progressive. In parliament, women hold only 35% of seats, while only three of Germany’s 16 states are headed by women. In the corporate sector in Germany, men dominate, with more than 600 male executives for just 93 women on the boards of major German stock indexes, according to the AllBright Foundation.

Women are paid on average 80% of what men earn in Germany, which is one of the highest gender pay gaps among European Union member states. The German penal code also makes abortion – both for the woman requesting one and for the practitioner performing the procedure – technically punishable by fines or imprisonment. Another article bans advertising of abortions.

Working mothers also need easier access to childcare services, and incomes must rise in female-dominated occupations, such as nursing, says Dr Henninger. Women’s shelters also need more resources.

Change one’s mind

In other words, there is a lot of work to be done. Still, hopes are high that Germany’s first egalitarian government will mark a new chapter.

To begin with, as Chancellor Scholz said, “security will be in the hands of strong women in this government”.

Cabinet members in charge of security have already touted a harsher line than their predecessors. Foreign Minister Baerbock wants Germany to take a firm stand against Russia’s regional and China’s global ambitions. Home Secretary Nancy Faeser has pledged to tackle far-right extremism and threats to German liberal democracy. Christine Lambrecht, who will oversee the defense, has pledged to properly fund the German army, which has been under-resourced for years.

And it is said that attention will finally be paid to promoting policies favorable to women. Agenda 2030, a set of sustainable development goals that include gender equality, contains milestones such as closing the gender pay gap, encouraging more girls to entering STEM fields and increasing the number of women on corporate supervisory boards to 30%.

“We expect all departments to shoulder their responsibilities and actively develop the government’s equality strategy,” said Elke Ferner, President of UN Women Germany.

Today, women with young children now hold leadership positions in government, a radical departure from the days when people speculated on the childcare arrangements of the former Minister of Defense and current President of the EU, Ms von der Leyen. (She has seven children.) “Now the question, ‘Can she really do that? “Is no longer requested,” says Dr Henninger.

“Women in Germany have become stronger in recent years. They have organized themselves in all sectors and all age groups and have found their voice, ”says Jutta Allmendinger, expert on gender inequalities and president of the research institute WZB Berlin Social Science Center. “I think Olaf Scholz really had no other choice.”

As the first woman to lead government, Merkel set a standard that Germany must now rely on, says UN Women Germany’s Ms Ferner. “Now it is about changing the basic conditions so that the equal participation of women is possible in all fields. “

James R. Rhodes