Quick facts

Qualitative facts

1.  Electoral system and party system and their impact on women

2.  History of Women's suffrage

3.  Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political decision-making
   a.  Infrastructure responsible for EO
   b.  Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy
   c.  Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics

Elisabeth Selbert (1896-1986)

Europäische Datenbank: Frauen in Führungspositionen

Report from Germany by our transnational partner
Alex Seeland

Quick facts
Women in Politics:
Women's suffrage active: 1918
Women's suffrage passive: 1918
1st Women in parliament: 1919 Marie Juchacz (SPD)
1st Women in government: 1961-1966 Elisabeth Schwarzhaupt (CDU),
Ministry of Health
1st Ministry on women's issues: 1986 Ministry of Youth, Family, Women and Health
% women in national Parliament: 31,2% Lower House (2000), 13,2 Upper House (2000)
% women in national Government: 35,0% (2000)
Electoral System:
Mixed/Two: Federal Diet:
656 members; 328 elected by majority vote from single-seat constituencies, 328 elected by party list vote from 16 multi-seat states awarded to ensure proportional representation.
Quota Law:  
Party Quota: 1988 SPD 40% women in all bodies of the parties and parliaments, PDS 50%, Grüne 50%, since 1996 CDU 1 (woman) to 2 (men) proportion.
% women with secondary degree: 43,5% (1998)
% women with degree in higher education: 46,8% (1998)
% women in senior management: 3,7% (1999)
Women's employment rates:
Full time: 41,6% (1998)
Part-time: 36,4% (1998)
Activity rate: 59,9% (1998)
Unemployment: 10,2% (1998)
*sources: Employment in Europe 1999 and Schlüsselzahlen zum Bildungswesen in der Europäischen Union, Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaft 1997, Luxemburg; European Database - Women in Decision-Making and data by transnational experts.

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Qualitative facts

1. Electoral system and party system and their impact on women

The German electoral system combines the principle of proportionality with the relative-majority system of single-member constituencies. In that sense it is mixed system and consequently the seats of the Bundestag (lower house of national parliamentarian assembly) are made up half by 'constituency' seats (Direktmandate) and half from the party lists. The Länder (federal states) are each allocated a number of seats in proportion to the total vote recorded in the Land. In accordance with the mixed system each voter has two votes, one for the direct constituency election and second one (Zweitstimme) for the competing party lists. The parties are competing with each other both in the constituencies and through their lists, and they may win seats by either or both methods. In fact, within each Land the final allocation of seats to a party depends entirely on its list vote. The decisive vote is the list vote, not that in the constituency. Thus the number of seats a party wins in the constituencies is deducted from its share of total allocation of seats to the Land. That share is determined by the size of the party's list vote and hence is calculated on a purely proportional basis. On occasion a party wins more constituency seats in a Land than indicated by the size of its list vote. In that case the party retains the excess seats (Überhangmandate). The allocation of seats to the Land is duly increased and so is the size of the Bundestag itself. A threshold requirement entails that only parties having secured 5 per cent of the popular (list) vote or three constituency seats can be seated in parliament. The strong and decisive proportionality angle of the system favours women's chances to be elected.

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2. History of Women's suffrage

In Germany women gained both active and passive suffrage in 1918. The Social-Democrats (SPD) have been the first political party that integrated equal rights for women to vote and to stand as candidates in their Manifesto (Erfurter Programm) in 1891. When the two social-democratic parties (SPD + USPD) formed the first government (as a coalition with conservatives and liberals) of the new German Republic in 1918 they introduced women's active and passive suffrage and integrated it into the Constitution (Weimarer Reichsverfassung. (Article 109: " As a principle both men and women have same citizens' right and duties.")
Women's suffrage has been on the agenda of some groupings of the first women's movement which emerged in the 19th century. It is rooted in the egalitarian ideas of the enlightenment, yet was triggered by the social problems arising with the transition from an agrarian-craft oriented to an industrial society. The movement aimed to fight poverty and attend to social needs of working class women and of unmarried middle-class women who had no access to gainful employment. Furthermore, it demanded access to education and the labour market for bourgeois women and their equal participation in public life. In many parts of the country women's associations were created. In 1865 the scattered groups joined and formed an umbrella organisation (Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein.) While the movement grew, an increasing number of different issues were put forward by its members. At the same time a clear split between the working class associations (Arbeiterinnenvereine) and the those carried by more privileged middle-class and bourgeois women emerged. While the working class associations were co-operating with closely the SPD, the middle-class groups formed their own umbrella organisation (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine - BDF). Two laws existing at the turn of century hampered in particular groups advocating women's suffrage: The 'Sozialistengesetze' of 1890 excluded any political activity of socialists and social-democrats and the Reichsvereinsgesetz penalised women's political and public activities. Many women's associations were set up as educational or cultural organisations and therefore were operating in a sheltered environment. But whenever associations were openly in favour of suffrage they were accused of 'socialist activities', threatened and harassed by the authorities. In 1908 the Reichsvereinsgesetz was changed and women allowed to embark on political activities, yet still without having the right to vote. Over time the BDF did not succeed to keep all the different interests under its wing and fell apart into so-called 'radicals' and 'moderates'. It was the radicals which rallied to press for action concerning issues such as prostitution, the discrimination of single mothers, the double standards applied to sexuality etc. The radicals together with the socialist and social-democratic women demanded suffrage whereas the moderates concentrated on education and charitable work, arguing that women would have to earn the vote by their work for the well-being and improvement of society.

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3. Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political decision-making

In 1949 the German Constitution (Grundgesetz) (see portrait of Elisabeth Selbert) was drafted and approved by the Parliamentarian Council, the constituent assembly authorised by the Western Allies. Article 3 of the constitution stipulates equality for women and men (3.1 All men (Menschen) are equal before the law. 3.2 Men and women have equal rights. 3.3 No one may be discriminated on base of sex, descent, ethnic background, language, homeland and origin, faith, religion or political opinion.) In 1994, five years after the German unification article 3 of the Constitution was amended by introducing positive action as binding task for the state to establish equality. Paragraph 3. 2 reads now: "Men an women have equal rights. The State ensures the implementation of equality for women and men and takes action to abolish existing discrimination."
Quotas as a tool to create a gender balance in political decision-making are seen as the responsibility of political parties. When the Greens turned from a social movement into a political party in 1980 they instilled gender balance by including a strict 50 per cent quota combined with a zipper system in their statutes. Except for the very top positions in government the Greens have been more or less able to meet their requirements.
In 1988 the Social Democrats followed suit and added a system of flexible quota as amendment to their statutes. It stipulated that in all internal party elections at least one third of candidates must be female. From 1994 on 40 per cent of all party positions have to be held by women. For election lists, parliamentarian mandates and public office a transition period with lower percentages was agreed. It started with 25 per cent in 1988, required one third in 1994 and 40 per cent in 1998. Within the party the SPD succeeded to meet those requirements. This is not entirely the case for seats in parliaments and in governments.
In 1996 the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) introduced the so-called quorum requiring 30 per cent of female representation in both party functions and election lists. So far these targets are not being met.
After German unification the Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (PDS, former GDR state party) introduced a strict 50 percent quota in combination with a zipper system. In many elections the PDS outperformed its own targets.Currently only the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU) and the Liberals (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) refuse to introduce parties.

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a. Infrastructure responsible for EO

The Federal Minister for Family, Senior Citizens and Women (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren und Frauen) is the competent member for equal opportunities and women's affairs in the Government. The Ministry as such was established in 1953 on the initiative of Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic. During these early years its main task was to develop and implement strategies to increase birth rates which were considered too low. For decades women's affairs were been seen as part of the family portfolio, based on the traditional role of women as mothers and homemakers and men as breadwinners. Despite of article 3 in the Constitution, women were not entitled to combine family duties and gainful employment without their husbands' consent until 1957. It took more than another 20 years until - under the pressure of the relevant European directives - labour market related equality legislation (Arbeitsrechtliches EG-Anpassungsgesetz) was passed in 1980. The 1970s and 1980s saw other important laws being passed (maternity (later parental) leave, dismantling of guilt principle in divorce; crediting child rearing in the pension system etc.). In 1986 equal opportunities and women were for the first time clearly spelt out in the name of the Ministry.
At the same time the Minister of Women's Affairs was - through a cabinet order - entrusted with specific competence related to equal opportunities. She can intervene whenever another portfolio's action touches upon equality aspects. Her Ministry screens all legislative drafts introduced by the Government for eventual gender impact before they enter the legislative process. The Ministry can also introduce equality legislation and relevant regulations concerning the civil service, in particular at the federal level. In 1994 the Kohl Government introduced a second equality bill (Gleichberechtigungsgesetz) which was passed in the same year. It focuses mainly on the Civil Service requiring every Federal Ministry and Institution to install an equality advisor, to improve the gender balance in recruitment and promotion, yet without using a quota system. The law includes a regulation to promote more equal participation of women in public consultative bodies. Whenever candidates must be proposed it stipulates that for each seat a woman and a man are nominated. After the political power shift in 1998 the new Schröder Government announced yet another improved equality bill with a more binding impact on the gender balance in recruitment and promotion in the private sector, plus a regulation for public procurement and contract compliance.
All Federal States (Länder) have created similar mechanisms. In most cases equal opportunities are integrated in other portfolios ( such as labour, social affairs, family or education). Most Länder have passed their own equality legislation which is often more effective than federal law due to quota regulations (goals and time-tables). Länder level equality legislation also requires to establish positions of equal opportunity counsellors (Frauenbeauftragte) in a decentralised way, so that every county and every municipality must comply. Depending on the size of the community these are part-time or full-time positions and the women responsible are either in charge of both equality issues inside and outside of the administration or the two functions are separated. There are nearly 2.000 municipal equal opportunity counsellors in Germany. They have formed their own umbrella organisation.

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b. Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy

For decades public opinion in Germany held women's lack of political interest as a firm belief, as did many Governments. Political education and activities for women was confined to what was called 'vorpolitischer Raum', the world of civic associations and organisations seen as a kind of anteroom of the real political arena. Until the late 1960s female voting patterns appeared to favour conservative parties. Election research sees the increasing female inroads in educational attainments as a major reason for the shifting of women's preferences towards the left, the Greens and - at the local level - towards single issue groups occurred in the 1970s and 1980s . In addition, over the years female participation in elections started to dwindle. This triggered awareness of women's different political priorities at party and government levels. Eventually the necessity of securing female votes led a commitment to enhance participation of women in political decision-making. This development is clearly linked to the decision of political parties to introduce quota systems. The situation of the Green Party, however, is different. The Greens evolved from a social movement which had discussed and then taken on board gender equality from early on.
More recently the balanced participation of women and men in the decision-making process is part of the national strategy to implement the Bejing Platform. This strategy includes actions aimed at securing equal access of women to decision-making positions at all levels of society. Obviously it refers to the existing and planned legal framework, but awareness raising campaigns, visibility events and research are also on the agenda. The funding of mentoring schemes to support women's access to leadership positions, the introduction of award systems (Total E-quality) to raise awareness particularly in the private sector and of the European Database 'Women in Decision-Making' are also part of the strategy.

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c. Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics

The Federal Statistical Office and the Länder level Statistical Offices establish detailed election data, including voting patterns, candidatures and seats won. Most data is gender specific. Until 1994 even voting patterns established after each election were gender specific. A coloured character on the top of the ballot sheet conveyed the gender of each voter. For reasons of data protection this was then abandoned and information on voting patterns of women and men are now based on exit polls. Every few years the Federal Government produces a publication 'Women in Germany'. Among other themes it focuses on women in decision-making. Both Federal and Länder level ministries holding the equal opportunities portfolio have financed relevant research, mainly concentrating on women in decision-making, their different priorities and leadership styles.
The German Women's Council (Deutscher Frauenrat), the umbrella organisation of women's associations operating at the Länder level, is funded as a permanent infrastructure by the Federal Government. It is a member of the European Women's Lobby and among the many themes it is lobbying and advocating for women in decision-making takes a prominent role.

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Portrait: Elisabeth Selbert (1896-1986)

1918 Member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD)
1921 Delegate at the first SPD national women's convention
1926 Abitur (A-levels)
1929 Law degree
1930 Doctorate
1933 Candidate in the last election of the Weimar Republic
1934 Lawyer's Licence
1946 Member of the constituant assembly for the Federal State of Hessen
1946 - 1956 Member of the Hessian Regional Parliament
1946 - 1955 Board Member of the SPD
1949 Member of the Parliamentarian Council

These facts and figures stand for the unusual life of an outstandingly courageous and persistent woman whose work was essential to establish a legal base for equal opportunities in Germany. Elisabeth Selbert was a member of the Parliamentarian Council that -authorised by the Western Allies- drafted and passed the Constitution of the new Federal Republic of Germany in 1949. Despite of the fact that this basic law (Grundgesetz) had not only fathers, but also mothers, she was utterly alone to face the resistance of the whole assembly. Her proposal to introduce an article stipulating equality before the law for both women and men was opposed even by the members of her own party, the Social Democrats. They favoured the solution put forward by the conservatives and the liberals allowing the state "differential treatment based on existing differences". Selbert saw the need to move beyond the Weimar Constitution that had accorded equal rights and duties to both female and male citizens. The experience of the Weimar Republic suggested that this amounted to women's right to vote and to stand as candidates in elections, but nothing more. After the Nazi regime's ban of women from public and political life Elisabeth Selbert felt that the beginnings of a new democratic Germany were the right moment to push for a more comprehensive concept of equality. She found support from outside the Parliamentarian Council: Women from all political parties and all societal spheres who had been filling the gaps in every line of work while the men were in the war swamped the assembly with petitions, demanding the approval of Selbert's equality article. And they succeeded. Jointly with the famous article 3 (3.1 All men (Menschen) are equal before the law. 3.2 Men and women have equal rights. 3.3 No one may be discriminated on base of sex, descent, ethnic background, language, homeland and origin, faith, religion or political opinion.) an additional provision was passed. It required that all legislation not coherent with the new principle of equality should be amended by 1953. Yet, it took decades until the principle of equality anchored in the constitution was finally applied to other areas such as family (1957) and labour law (1980).

What has shaped the personality of this outstanding woman? Elisabeth Selbert was born into a middle-class family where politics were not considered as a professional activity. She went to middle and finishing school and worked as a secretary and postal clerk. Through her husband, an active Social Democrat, she joined the SPD and became a politician, first at regional and later at national level. But soon she realised that "if women want to achieve things, they need solid knowledge and skills". So, she went back to school and gained her A-levels as a pre-requisite to study law. With two little sons to raise she would have been quite unable to earn both a law degree and a doctorate without the support of her husband and parents. At the end of 1934 she was one of the last women to be licensed as a lawyer by the Nazi authorities that had already excluded women from being judges in 1933. As from January 1934 they were no longer admitted to being lawyers. Selbert succeeded to set up her own practice which she kept open throughout the war, even when her husband was sent to a concentration camp being accused of leftist activities. She was part of a network of social-democratic lawyers and politicians that but never joint the ranks of the active anti-Nazi resistance. Even if her passion and expertise were in constitutional law, the key-speciality of her law practice was family law. In fact, her doctoral thesis had pleaded the case of deterioration of marriage as a lawful reason for divorce. In her practice she gained many insights on how the patriarchal family model impacted on women's lives. Most probably this experience strengthened her deep commitment to ensuring that legal equality must include the whole of women's lives and not only active and passive suffrage.

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