Women's movements in Germany — a long history
Women have been fighting for equal rights in Germany for over 170 years. Despite their extraordinary achievements, the #MeToo movement also shows that much still has to be done.
'Songbird of the German women's movement'
Author Louise Otto-Peters (1819-1895) is a pioneer of Germany's women's movements. At the age of 24, she called for more female participation in decision-making and co-founded with other suffragists the General German Women's Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein) in 1865. The activist also wrote poetry and novels, earning her the "songbird" nickname.
Helene Lange fought for equal opportunities
Girls didn't have easy access to education in Germany at the end of the 19th century. The women's movement of the late 1890s aimed to emancipate girls and women through schooling. Teacher and feminist Helene Lange (1948-1930) was a leading figure in this movement; she also founded different women's suffrage groups.
Mother of the 'proletarian' women's movement
Activist Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) fought for stronger representation of women in trade unions, women's suffrage and abortion rights — already aiming to abolish the controversial Paragraph 218 of German criminal law, which remained an activists' issue well into the 1970s. And finally, she also contributed to establishing International Women's Day.
Anita Augspurg and her women's group
Anita Augspurg and her associates didn't care much about social conventions. Augspurg lived together with her girlfriend, and they both wore men's cloths and short hair. As a lawyer, she fought for women's suffrage (granted in Germany in 1918) and the rights of prostitutes. Augspurg's association participated in forming international women's networks.
Backlash during the Nazi era
The Nazis rejected emancipatory movements. Women were expected to stick to their traditional role as wives and mothers; the Nazi party promoted an image of women that had previously been dispelled by activists. In the eyes of the Nazis, women's rights groups had been created by Jews or Communists and needed to be suppressed.
'German woman! Help too'
For several years under Hitler, German women's fundamental role was to bear as many children as possible and raise them with Nazi values, in order to help maintain the "Aryan race." Women who were particularly successful in this regard were honored with the Cross of Honor of the German Mother ("Mutterkreuz"). However, this changed once the war started, as women were needed in the workforce.
With the end of World War II in 1945, German women came to play an important role in the reconstruction of the war-torn country. They not only helped remove debris, but also made their voices heard in politics. New women's associations picked up the work that had been stalled in 1933, aiming to achieve equal rights for women.
The pill: a new form of freedom
In 1961, birth control pills became available in Germany. At first, they were only prescribed to married women — officially against menstruation pains. But the pill quickly became widespread, and strongly contributed to the sexual emancipation of women in the late 1960s.
Feminists from the student movement
The 1968 West German student movement fought not only to reform universities, but also against authoritarian structures and for sexual emancipation. However, the leadership of the movement was male-dominated; feminist activists went their own way. The banner on the right reads "Emancipation = Class conflict" — the influence of Marxist theory nevertheless remained strong for them too.
1971: 'We had an abortion!'
In Germany, abortion was a criminal offence until the 1970s. Following the sexual revolution of the late 60s, activists demanded the abolition of Paragraph 218 that outlaws abortion. In 1971, the magazine Stern published the names of 374 women admitting they had an abortion. The law was reformed in 1976, and several times since, legalizing abortions under certain terms.
An eloquent fighter: Alice Schwarzer
A pioneer of Germany's feminist movement, Alice Schwarzer founded in 1977 the country's first feminist magazine, EMMA, which avoided all glamour and tackled political issues. Schwarzer remains a controversial figure in the country, but she has also driven important debates that led to necessary changes for women.
Freedom in purple overalls
In the mid 1970s, the West German women's movement also took on a new symbol — purple overalls, usually worn by workmen. Today, it is hard to believe how many restrictions were still imposed on women at the time, especially married ones. It was only in 1977 that wives in West Germany were entitled to gainful employment without the authorization of their husband.
When German punk lady Nina Hagen released her debut album in 1978, she triggered both criticism and enthusiasm. A woman fronting a rock band? Socially critical texts using plain vulgar language? A woman masturbating in front of a camera during a TV show? No other woman came to symbolize female freedom and liberty to that extent. Nina Hagen became a cult figure.
A new awareness
"If men could become pregnant, abortion would be a fundamental right," says this banner from a 1993 protest. Women's voices grew stronger through associations for lesbians, women lawyers and peace activists. With the Green Party, feminism made it into Germany's parliament. Even the Christian Democrats followed suit, appointing a woman as a minister. But it took until 1997 to outlaw marital rape.
No end in sight
Although women's movements have achieved some of their goals, a lot still remains to be done. Men still dominate Germany's parliament and big companies. Men still earn more money for the same job as women. And they still misuse their positions of power by sexually harassing or abusing women. Chances are that the #metoo movement founded in October 2017 will remain busy for some time to come.