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Germany

Opinion: Still far to go for women in Germany

Is International Women's Day a relic of days gone by? Hardly, says DW's Sarah Hofmann. We need the day more than ever - not only to push for equal employment and pay, but as a sign of solidarity among women.

For International Women's Day this year, I want to give myself a gift: a piggy bank, on which I plan to write in big, black letters the words "chauvinist pig." It should be a small pig, something which I can carry around with me at all times.

With my piggy bank, I'll be ready if a man comes along and spits out one of those stupid, clichéd sayings: I can just whip out my pig and say "Pay up!" This would help me - and other women - to avoid an all-too common situation still faced by women in the supposedly emancipated Germany of 2015: unexpected harassment.

Anecdote 1: On her first day at work, a young woman sits in the new office that she'll share with a male colleague. Another co-worker strolls into the room and asks the man: "Oh, so I see you have a new secretary?"

Deutsche Welle Sarah Hofmann

DW's Sarah Hofmann

Male show of force

The "chauvinist pig" is a great idea - a friend who works in the private sector came up with it - because it brings together those two levels at which emancipation still falls short: the debasement of women by the abuse of male power - whether verbal aggression or even sexual assault - and the fact that men still have more power when it comes to position and money.

Anecdote 2: As my friend placed her brand-new piggy bank on her desk, a colleague walked over waving a 10-euro note and said: "I'd like to pay a flat rate."

Sure - in retrospect, most of these stories are quite funny, were it not for the facts. According to a recent study by Germany's Anti-Discrimination Agency, more than half of all female employees have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace. One in five women have been touched against their will by a colleague. Every day, women going about their daily life, on the street or in the subway, are sexually assaulted - regardless of all the public #outcry.

Discrimination is in the details

Compared to legal discrimination against women in countries like Saudi Arabia, mass rape in India or female genital mutilation in sub-Saharan Africa and other places, the situation in Germany may lead some to roll their eyes and ask what all the fuss is about. Women can study whatever they want here, pursue a career, even become chancellor!

All true. And yet, the discrimination is in the details: women in Germany earn on average 22 percent less than their male colleagues, putting us among Europe's leaders when it comes to wage inequality. According to federal statistics, in only 13 percent of German couples does the woman earn more than their spouse or partner.

Legislation to guarantee equal pay is long overdue, as is the introduction of the quota for women in supervisory boards. The proportion of women in the boardrooms of Germany's largest public companies recently dropped even further - to a measly 5.5 percent.

Anecdote 3: A woman in a leadership position is looking to hire an assistant, a job that is a clear stepping stone to a promising career. But behind closed doors, she admits that she finds it difficult to work with women - and hires a man.

The "chauvinist pig" isn't only meant for men. Some women are also responsible for tripping up the progress made by other women, true to the motto: "I had to fight my way to the top. Why should those who come after me get all the credit?"

Solidarity is an old-fashioned word - one we shouldn't forget

Anecdote 4: A young, well-educated woman, with several years of experience, has a child. After taking a year of parental leave, she decides to come back to work in a part-time capacity. "Dumb move - the perfect way to derail her career," whisper her colleagues behind her back.

Yes, it's true - children, in particular, can put a kink into a career. It's still primarily women who take the bulk of parental leave; on average, men stay home for three months after the birth of a child; women, by contrast, 12 months). And it's women who often go on to take a part-time job and leave meetings ahead of time to pick up the children from daycare.

But does that give us the right to judge how a woman decides to balance her work and family life? Should we not instead appeal more to fathers to take on greater responsibility?

One of the best images from the days of the early women's movement showed Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxembourg marching arm in arm. They knew that they would only be able to achieve greater rights for women if they worked together.

Today - at least in Germany - it's no longer about fundamental rights, such as the right to vote, but there is still much to do. And, dear women, we can only do this together! Maybe I'll pick up a few extra "chauvinist pigs" - I know plenty of women who could use one.