Monika Griefahn, Mitglied des Deutschen Bundestages a. D.

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On this website you find information about my work as member of parliament (1998 - Oct. 2009)

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    17.03.2005

    Speech in the general debate of the 112th IPU Conference in Manila


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    Ladies and gentlemen,

    Considerable progress has been made in Germany in the process of strengthening the rights of women and increasing their participation in public and professional life. However, a great deal still remains to be done. We continue to work actively for the implementation of a policy of gender equality and the equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes in all walks of life.

    There has been a strengthening of the presence of women in political office. At the beginning of the first legislative term of the German Parliament in the post-war era, that was in the year 1949, after the principle of equality of women and men had been laid down in the text of our constitution, the percentage of women in parliament was 6.8 percent. At the beginning of the current legislative term, in the year 2002, that percentage had grown to 33 percent. We definitely are on the right track, but we have not yet reached our objective. Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands are evidence that this figure can be improved further in Europe. It is interesting to note the makeup of the electorate in our last general election. A total of 23.4 million men cast their ballots, as compared to a total of 25.5 million women. But not all women vote for women.

    Most parties promote the candidacies of women on the basis of fixed quotas. When candidate lists are drawn up, a specific percentage of places is reserved for women. An ideal solution is gender alternation in the process of awarding places on the list, particularly at the upper levels, although this is not always possible in practice. At present there are still more men than women who are willing to stand for election. The presidium of the German Parliament consists of five members. Two of them are women.

    Women have long since ceased to be the subject of special mention in the course of parliamentary business; dedicated women parliamentarians are no longer the exception; they have become the norm. In this regard the experience of women parliamentarians today is much different from that of their predecessors in past decades. Thus far we have not had a woman Chancellor or a woman President in Germany, but women are continuing to work towards these objectives as well. It is worthwhile noting that the ministerial posts in our national cabinet are held by seven men and six women.

    Thus far the highest executive office a women has been elected to in Germany has been the office of premier of a state government. Unfortunately women continue to be strongly underrepresented in state assemblies, on city and local councils, as well as in district assemblies.

    There are still too few women in top management positions in the private sector. There is a voluntary agreement between the government and the leading industrial associations to work towards the achievement of gender equality here, too, but it would seem that women still have a very long road ahead of them here.

    It has been possible to implement the principle of 'equal pay for equal work' in the sphere of public administration, but this is not something that can be taken for granted in the private sector. We are continuing to work on this problem in government institutions and in the labour unions.

    The German government has taken numerous measures aimed at improving conditions for the successful and equal participation of women in all areas of working life.

    The federal and state governments are working together to ensure equal opportunity for women in teaching and research activities at our universities; 30.7 million euros annually has been budgeted for this purpose in a programme that will run up to the year 2006. Increased efforts are being made to attract women to careers in science and engineering.

    A wide range of information is being provided as early as possible on the range of career options available, with a view to being able to exert an influence on the career choices of girls and young women. A "Girls Day" programme has been instituted, involving a day of practical work experience in companies, to give girls an opportunity to become acquainted with the nature of the work involved in a number of different occupations. Information events are being organized in the framework of 'Initiative D21' with a view to attracting women to careers in the IT sector.

    For a number of years now it has been possible for women to become members of fighting units in the German armed forces. At the end of 2004 the German Parliament passed a gender equality law governing the status of men and women in the armed forces. Women are still underrepresented in this career area. A part-time duty option is making it easier to combine military service with having a family.

    A government programme on "Women and Careers" has been created to promote gender equality and equality of opportunity for women and men in working life and with regard to having a family. Advisory services and supplementary training are provided for women who have had children or are otherwise unemployed in an effort to help them find their way back into the active workforce.

    There is increasing government support for the compatibility of family and career. The current government has created more flexible options for both women and men with regard to family leave after a child has been born. It is now possible for both parents to take family leave at the same time and it is also possible for them to work up to thirty hours a week during the family leave period if they should decide they want to.

    In companies that employ more than fifteen persons, all employees have the right to work part time. This provides greater flexibility with regard to child care. Women, in particular, profit from the payment of a child-raising benefit during periods of time spent taking care of children; they profit from the recognition of pension rights for periods of time spent raising children and providing nursing care to family members; and they profit from assistance provided to single parents.

    Highly trained women usually take shorter periods of stay-at-home time during family leave so as not to suffer career disadvantages. Most women want to work. Many women have to work for economic reasons. The average length of time mothers stay at home with their children is five years. This is too long, given that 80 percent of women would prefer to go back to work sooner. The percentage of single mothers in Germany is on the increase. When couples separate the children remain with the mothers in the vast majority of cases. The percentage of recipients of government social assistance is particularly high in these cases.

    From our point of view it has been clearly shown that improving the availability of day-care opportunities for small children is the most important step in achieving gender equality and making it possible for more women to work.

    The German government has created a wide range of supportive programmes aimed at making it easier for women, and of course also for men, to have children and pursue a career at the same time. Sufficient numbers of crches and other day-care facilities for children under the age of three are to be created in Germany by the year 2010. Parents already have a right to half-day kindergarten care for children from the age of thee. A federal programme with a financial volume of 4 billion euros has been created for the purpose of making investments in Germany's standard half-day schools to create the facilities needed for all-day schools.

    A gender-neutral system of payment has been introduced for the government-subsidized personal retirement plans generally referred to as "Riester pensions". The same payout rates will apply for men and women in the case of any new pension contracts concluded as of the year 2006. This is a significant step forward with regard to gender equality in pensions.

    Women are frequently victims of domestic violence, and this is the case in Germany no less than anywhere else in the world. A domestic violence protection act has been passed in Germany with a view to taking this situation into account. The law strengthens the position of women and children, who are typically the victims of domestic violence. It stipulates that the perpetrator must move out of the common place of residence, and that the woman in question can continue to live there for the time being. Our principle, which states that "the perpetrator goes and the victim stays", is a clear public penalty for the perpetration of violence of any kind against women and children.

    The present government also supports the maintenance of safe houses where battered women and children can find refuge and get help in developing new prospects for their lives.

    Thus, as you can see ladies and gentlemen, government institutions in Germany have made significant efforts to improve the situation of women, and they are continuing to do so. A great deal has been achieved. But, at the same time, it needs to be noted that there are some areas where only partial victories have been won. We hope the path we are following will some day lead us to a Germany in which gender equality is fully achieved. Gender equality is an issue of universal importance, and we intend to continue to pursue this path to the end.