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Germany

First Female Appointed as Germany 's Top Lawyer

In a country in which most top political and business posts are held by men, the appointment of Monika Harms as federal prosecutor general on Tuesday has people wondering if things are changing for women.

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Monika Harms will lead a boys' club

It has become almost cliché. To walk into any German boardroom, high level political meeting or even news conference is to walk into a room filled mainly with men.

Then last year, Angela Merkel became Germany's first female chancellor and people mused over whether this might be a turning point for women in Germany. Another first -- the appointment of Monika Harms as the first female federal prosecutor general on Tuesday -- is making it look that way.

"I think that I provide an example that women can also reach the highest offices," she said 19 years ago after being appointed to the Federal Court of Justice, the country's highest appellate court.

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A long way up

Born in 1946 in Berlin, Harms grew up in Frankfurt am Main and studied in Heidelberg and Hamburg. She started her judicial career in 1974 as a prosecutor in Hamburg, responsible for corporate crime. Afterward, she worked as a judge at the district court level and later at Hamburg's fiscal court before being appointed to the Federal Court of Justice.

A self-described conservative, Harms has been described by her colleagues as a team player known for her integrity and a pragmatic approach to problem-solving. And although she is a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), she has never been known as a party hack.

Harms was considered a favorite candidate for the Federal Constitutional Court, which will have two vacancies this year. But she let it be known that she would rather have the top prosecutor job. There, she will enter a boys' club -- following her predecessor Kay Nehm, who retired this week and who led a team that, for the last decade, has consisted of about 25 men.

Hope for others?

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The military and politics have opened to women -- but boardrooms are largely closed

But it's doubtful whether Harms' appointment will signal a change in Germany for women seeking to break through the glass ceiling. The statistics don't look good.

The percentage of women in management board positions of publicly listed companies in Germany is a paltry 4 percent. And a 2006 report on equality by the European Commission showed that the wage gap between men and women in Germany widened by three percentage points in the past five years -- German men earned on average 23 percent more income than women for equal work in 2004.

Still, in the realm of politics and law, women have done better since German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer reluctantly appointed the country's first female minister, Elisabeth Schwarzhaupt to his cabinet in 1961. Schröder had six women in his cabinet, Merkel has five. And women make up about one-third of parliament, up from 9 percent in 1980.

The proportionately better representation of women in politics is attributed to a slew of laws and policies guaranteeing gender equality and equal opportunity that were put in place in the 1980s and 1990s -- especially a quota introduced by the Greens reserving 50 percent of party seats and posts for women.

Still, most agree that as more and more women climb the ladder, society will get used to seeing them in top posts. And in that, Harms provides another high profile example.

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