Gender Equality “The Labour market Needs More Women”

Christina von Braun
Christina von Braun | Photo (detail): Goethe-Institut/Maik Schuck

The 2013 Gender Equality Atlas of Germany provides statistical data on women in training, politics and at work.Christina von Braun explains what is happening on the equality front in Germany at the moment in the conflicting areas of government, business and private life.

Professor von Braun, what do you associate with the words gender equality?

I have always worked in the field of gender mainstreaming, that is, striving to make a case for more sensitivity when it comes to such issues as gender injustice, as well as certain behavioural patterns, such as sexual harassment in the workplace. Feminist politics in the form of women making targeted demands is of course the order of the day, but the first step really has to be to promote an awareness of injustice and forms of violation and discrimination that are committed unknowingly.

The Gender Equality Atlas is currently showing a shortfall in equality

The 2nd Gender Equality Atlas for Germany provides a comprehensive overview of the regional differences when trying to implement important gender policies and the creation of conditions that are conducive to gender equality. The 2nd Gender Equality Atlas is an updated and extended version of the first edition of the Atlas from the year 2009.

The 2013 Gender Equality Atlas produced by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth examined and analysed various areas of life. When it comes to the number of women holding high posts at the regional political level the national average was a remarkable 33.5 per cent; women working at a high administrative level was at 20.3 per cent. At the municipal council level, however, they did not do quite so well with a mere 8.3 per cent. Are women not so interested in local politics?

I think it is more a question of just how successful those little matadors at the local politics level are at getting their own way and getting rid of any female competition. I am confident that women can also play an important role in the field of local politics, but they are still confronted with power structures that make it easier for men to stay in top positions.

At the regional political level the dimension is more abstract. There are always a few women needed in the regional cabinets and they are suitably promoted. It is more difficult for the macho-structures to kick in at this level, compared to the local politics level. This also applies to political parties. When parties make a conscious decision to increase the number of women in high-ranking positions – decisions that often come from the top – women are given places in the party list, etc. On the local politics level, where it is more a case of “dog eat dog”, the battle of the sexes is often more fraught. However I do not want to generalise too much in this case.

The responsibility of state and society

The number of women at boardroom level in the private business sector is growing (26 per cent in 2012 compared to 24 per cent in 2008) and the number of unemployed women is going down (48 per cent work in jobs that are subject to social security deductions). In your opinion is this trend going to continue?

Women are being deliberately supported and promoted, because they are needed on the labour market. One example of this is the current policy on the provision of day-care centres for children. For many women it has become easier to combine having a job with having children. In France, however, it is a matter of course that a mother puts her child in a kind of play-school at the age of three and goes off to work. I think that, in Germany, too, the number of gainfully employed women would be much higher if there were more day-care centres for their children and if it were more taken for granted that women can have both a job and children. Alas, Germany has a hard time dealing with this!

Would this then require more a change in the perception of roles in one’s private life or governmental measures? After all many women work in flexible and precarious forms of employment that are not particularly conducive to financial independence, provision for old age and prospects of promotion.

The government really does have to take responsibility in this case. It is always moaning about the demographic shift and the decline in the birth rate. I am not so sure, however, that money would in fact help to increase the birth rate, but where children grow up under precarious conditions, something has to be done. Some women do not want to have to deal with the labour market’s pressure to perform. It really is not any easier these days to be successful professionally. On the other hand, you cannot complain about being powerless and, at the same time, having no money of your own.

It is still often the case that women earn less than men although they have the same qualifications (22 per cent less on a German national average). What can be done about this kind of discrimination?

Salaries have to be made more public, more transparent. In the USA this turned out to be quite successful after American female scientists and researchers decided to ask their male colleagues what they earned. All hell broke loose! This kind of thing would also work well at entrepreneurial level.

Let’s stay at the academic level – when it comes to the number of professorships held by women the German states of Berlin and Lower Saxony are at the top of the list with 29 and 24 per cent respectively.

Both of these states have pursued a targeted gender policy. Looking at it from the point of view of history and culture it might well be a relic from the Protestant thinking of the past. Both of them are predominantly Protestant areas, and after all it was Protestantism that started promoting the education of girls a long time ago. As soon as a federal state, however, consciously commits itself to a gender policy, the results are not long in coming.

Ways of promoting women

Local, municipal or national – what political level would be the most effective one for the promotion of gender equality?

Some countries have a quota system, because the country is already open to gender equality anyway, for example the Scandinavian countries. And then there are countries in which the quota system has not had any effect yet. In my opinion Germany is one of these countries. There is no point in simply waiting for gender equality to be socially accepted. We have to work on this social acceptance – promoting it at all political levels.

Is Germany, in your opinion, moving in the right direction?

Well, I think so, but there is really is no way round it. If the labour market is to function properly and if tax revenues are to continue pouring in, then there will be no alternative to integrating women more firmly in the working world and to providing them with the opportunity to combine having a job and having children. This also involves dividing the task of bringing up the children between man and woman in a better way and overcoming the idea that the majority of single parents have to be women.

Christine von Braun is a professor of cultural studies and co-director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at Humboldt University and, also, Vice-President of the Goethe-Institut. She has two grown-up children.