The Christian Social Union of Bavaria is one of Germany's most old-school conservative political parties - and it has the lowest rate of female membership. But party leaders are hoping to change that.
Niebler said the 40-percent quota is only a first step
A poll released by Focus magazine on Sunday found that 72 of Germans support quotas for women in businesses and 69 percent support quotas in politics.
The results may be important news for the Christian Social Union party in Bavaria, which will vote at its party conference in Munich on Oct. 29 and 30 on whether to introduce a 40 percent quota for women in county- and state-level leadership positions. State premier Horst Seehofer has supported the quota and said he is confident he can get a large majority to vote in favor of the quota.
The CSU is the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party.
Seehofer believes the proposal will pass with a large majority
The quota would not apply to local-level positions, where Seehofer said a 40-percent quota would be unfeasible. But the CSU's women's committee chairwoman Angelika Niebler said the proposal was only a first step.
"You have to start somewhere," she said. "What matters for me is that we as a party are moving forward, we're bringing more women into leadership roles. And everything that's being discussed right now is headed in the right direction."
Other methods fail
The CSU has the lowest female membership of all political parties in the German parliament. Nineteen percent of members are women, and only 10 percent of leadership roles filled by women.
The Greens were the first party in Germany to introduce a gender quota, setting a non-binding goal of filling 50 percent of leadership roles with women in 1979 and making it official policy in 1986. The Social Democrats followed suit two years later with a 40-percent quota.
The SPD has had a 40-percent quota since 1988
The ideas were pioneering at the time, but many young women in the CSU now see gender quotas as outdated. The CSU's youth organization has denounced the proposal as "discriminatory" and "undemocratic," calling for a women's mentoring program and a media campaign as alternative solutions.
But Dr. Isabelle Kuerschner, a women's specialist at the CSU-affiliated Hanns-Seidel Foundation, said those methods have been tested - and failed.
"The only effective measure that has been tested and really brought more women into parties is the gender quota," she told Deutsche Welle. "You need some kind of pressure. So the quota is the pressure parties need to really get more women into leadership positions."
Younger women opposed
The CSU is not entirely without women in high-level positions. Barbara Stamm, president of the Bavarian state parliament, and Gerda Hasselfeldt, vice-president of the Bundestag, are two examples of CSU women who rose through the ranks without a quota to help them. But both women support the gender quota as a way of ensuring that future generations of women are included in politics.
Stamm is one of the few women in the CSU who has risen to a high leadership position
"I used to be strictly against gender quotas," Stamm told public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk. "But unfortunately we haven't caught up yet... and now I think we as a party have to go in the direction that is necessary."
The fact that some of the strongest opposition to gender quotas comes from young women might seem ironic, but Kuerschner says it is relatively easy for young women to get into leadership roles on the local level. The party needs them to present a fresh face and attract more voters.
But these positions don't have very much power. And many of the young women in the CSU have not been around long enough to experience real discrimination.
"They have the feeling, 'I can get whatever I want, I can achieve whatever I want to, I just have to work hard and I will be rewarded,'" she said. "But that's not the case, and it takes some time to find that out."
Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Rob Turner