Opinion: Women in power should back other women | Current Affairs | DW | 03.06.2010
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Current Affairs

Opinion: Women in power should back other women

German Labor Minister von der Leyen is one of Chancellor Merkel's most popular cabinet members - and a potential candidate for the presidency. A boost to equal rights, says Deutsche Welle's Adrienne Woltersdorf.


The face of success in Germany is already feminine.

Ever since Chancellor Angela Merkel first took office, Germans have gotten used to using the words "woman" and "power" in the same sentence. Of course it has long been evident that women do their job as well or in as mediocre a fashion as their male counterparts do. But powerful women have so far rarely displayed a willingness to back other women.

Angela Merkel is setting an example. The chancellor wants to nominate a woman for Germany's top job: Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen would be the one to take over the office of president. Von der Leyen would be the 10th German president and the first woman in that position.

It's about time! The Social Democrats and the Greens have repeatedly suggested female candidates for the position in Bellevue Palace, which is the president's official residence. Gesine Schwan was the last such candidate; she failed to win by a slim margin, which many people regretted.

Germany in the past hasn't exactly been known for championing equal rights, but today, the country boasts many successful women. There is the chancellor. There is Lena, the radiant winner of the Eurovision Song Contest. There is Steffi Graf, one of the most successful tennis players of all times. There is Sarah Wiener, a Berlin chef cook and successful businesswoman, and of course publicist Alice Schwarzer, the woman who possibly demanded this development most vehemently of all.

That gives young women in Germany role models their mothers could only dream of. Merkel, von der Leyen and Graf -- these examples show young women that fighting for a goal is worthwhile. These examples also show that allies are important on the way to the top, and that men are prepared to respect women in their jobs - even if that respect has to be earned first. The 19-year-old Eurovison winner Lena showed last weekend that women often break established patterns. Far from perfect, super-talented or a vamp, she won people's hearts across Europe. That, too, is a bit of normalisation in the battle of the sexes.

But the delight about the entry of women into the centers of power doesn't alter the fact that down below, in the engine rooms as it were, things are pretty glum. There is movement at the top, but things appear to be set in concrete elsewhere.

In Germany, poverty is still a female phenomenon.

Men still earn more than women do: Last year, the average woman in Germany earned 23 percent less per hour than the average man. The boss is more often than not a man, the nursing staff are women. In the area of gender equality, Germany is by no means a role model, no matter how many development surveys and competitive strategies are compiled.

Major companies still hide behind ineffective equality concepts. Instead of seeking creative solutions that could break up one-sided career structures, they like to point at women and say, they are not interested. But of course, in 85 percent of German families, it's the women who run the household and rear the children.

Let's hope that successful women aren't satisfied with merely having made it themselves.

Author: Adrienne Woltersdorf/db
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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