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Gender equality is still lacking in GermanyImage: AP

Opinion: Women on Top?

Ulrike Mast-Kirschning (dc)
March 8, 2006

It may be International Women's Day, but how far have women come in the battle for equality of the sexes? More programs are needed for women to influence society on all levels, says DW's Ulrike Mast-Kirschning.


For a few months now, Liberia, Germany and Chile have had something new in common -- women were recently elected to head their governments. It's difficult to directly compare either the three countries or the three women that rule them. The heads of state are comparable mainly in the expectations brought to bear on them by the public. They are all expected to make progress on exactly those issues where their male predecessors failed. They have become symbols of hope -- as have their counterparts in eight other countries around the world.

Women are represented in many parliaments. More than 16 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women -- more than ever before. Is the end of the patriarchal society nearing? Is it just a matter of time before discrimination against the female sex has been overcome? Is discrimination-free female participation in the decision-making process now a reality?

Sicherheitskonferenz in München
Chancellor Angela Merkel is the first woman to hold the position in GermanyImage: AP

No. What is 16 percent, when more than half the world's population is female? The representation of women in parliament has, seen globally, climbed only marginally in over 30 years, namely by around 5 percent. The numbers are on the right path and document a certain level of persistence. But the female share in most houses of representation remains well under the "critical mass" of 30 percent.

But it's only beyond this threshold that the kind of decision-making is possible that could lead in a different direction from the politics of the classic men's circle, in which the narcissistic division of power counts for more than social responsibility and humanity, and in which the daily realities of many women could finally take center stage.

Business is no better

Equally little has changed when it comes to the economy. Women still have a harder time finding a job than men do. And when they do have a job, it's usually one without much status or influence. Women are still frequently paid far less than their male colleagues for equal work. And even when the odd company places a woman in a leadership position, the men still prefer their boys' club. The percentage of women in management board positions of publicly listed companies in Germany is a paltry 4 percent.

It's not yet been proven whether women in leadership positions tend to focus less on capital interests and more on people when making business decisions. But at a time when the gap between rich and poor seems to be getting ever wider, a gender-specific view of society is particularly necessary. How can societal powers, work, wealth and income be divided so that children can have opportunities and a future?

It's to be expected that UN General Secretary Kofi Annan calls for more equality of the sexes on International Women's Day. But if he were to also point to successes various countries have had in actually achieving more equality through targeted programs, then it would become clear that lack of progress is mostly due to a lack of political will.

It's high time then for governments, organizations and companies to become active, in order to make women's participation possible at all levels of decision-making processes, and in all areas of society.

In this day and age, it's potentially more important than ever. Given the current political and economic crises, the continuation of the patriarchal society represents an immeasurable strategy of risk.

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