Dr. Christine Bergmann
© Jan 2001
Dr. Christine BergmannMinister for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth since October 1998.
Studied pharmacology in Leipzig, worked as a pharmacist.
Joined the SPD in 1989, was president of the Berlin Municipal Assembly from 1990 to 1991,
Deputy Mayor of Berlin and Senator for Employment and Women, member of the Berlin Parliament.
Quote: "Men still have a hard time sharing power"
Fearing that the attempts to create truly democratic conditions after the demise of the GDR might not be successful prompted Christine Bergmann to enter politics 'at the age of fifty'. Like many, she was captivated by the spirit of a new beginning that existed after October/November 1989, and the desire to create a 'better future' for the coming generations. The vision that this implied carried this natural scientist into new territory. Her training in the natural sciences and her professional duties that taught her analytical thinking were helpful to orient her to new professional field. Though she lacked parliamentary and political experience, she has never regretted taking the step into politics. This is difficult because the excitement of the first period has vanished and stable structures have re-emerged that make it difficult to realise one's own political goals. A classical newcomer to politics, she became president of the Berlin Municipal Assembly in May 1990, then Mayor of Berlin and Senator for Employment and Women in 1991. Willy Brandt served as a role model for her, because he, according to Christine Bergmann, always let the people of the GDR feel that the purpose of his Eastern Bloc politics was also to serve them. At the bottom of her heart, she claims, she has always been a social democrat, and so it made sense for her to join the SPD. The party, she says, didn't let people in the GDR down and has helped the unification process. Furthermore, the central issues of the SPD such as equal opportunity and social justice were always fundamental concerns for her as well.
The main issues that Bergmann is fighting for up to this day correspond to the central policy areas of the SPD: employment, women and youth, and equal opportunity for all. Having been brought up in the GDR is an important factor in explaining her great preoccupation with employment policy, especially with regard to girls and women. Even though looking back at history, one can by no means call the GDR a 'paradise of equality', but acceptance for women in the workforce was high. According to Christine Bergmann, economic independence is an important step on the way to gender equality. Therefore, she wants to create equal starting conditions, especially for young people. Young women have good employment prospects, particularly in IT-areas. She deems it a great neglect not to convey this fact in the school system. Girls should be able to see where their opportunities are, and this needs to be achieved politically. If women decide to have a family, different legislative measures need to insure that they are able to hold a job at the same time, just like men. The recent models of part-time parental leave for mothers and fathers put forth by the federal Ministry for the Family (Bundesfamilienministerium) represent one step in the right direction.
Christine Bergmann considers quota regulations in politics to be of great importance, since without them, there would be no 'sharing of power' among men and women. Now, political bodies are forced to look for competent women, and women see a chance to get into leadership positions. Unfortunately, she feels, the word "quota" is used in a derogatory sense when applied to women, even though there are hundreds of other quotas in politics that nobody gets excited about. She considers quotas to be appropriate in all areas, and pleads for introducing qualified quotas into the civil service area, so that career options are opened up there as well. Christine Bergmann calls herself the 'double quota' both woman and 'Ossi', meaning from the former GDR. Quota regulations and women moving up into the higher levels of political hierarchies could also provide young women with role models and thus encourage them to enter politics. Even though women increasingly enter new fields in politics (such as Minister for Finances, and party Chairwoman), important areas such as foreign politics or the economy are still largely dominated by men.
Christine Bergmann identifies male dominance as the main obstacle to women rising to the top in politics. In addition, it takes a great amount of time to get into the positions of decision-making. Women, due to their double burden of job and family, often do not have the same temporal flexibility to participate in informal circles where many of the decisions are actually made. Usually, Bergmann says, women have three other jobs waiting for them: 'someplace there is always a washing-machine running'. Nevertheless, women themselves are also responsible for their lack of engagement in politics. Traditional gender roles, still widespread in society, are holding women back. Especially women with children have a hard time 'justifying' their professional and political involvement - and constantly feel remorse, for example when dropping their children at day-care. In addition, there is a subtle social pressure on professional mothers in times of high unemployment, to vacate their positions for unemployed men and attend to their duties as mothers. Without substantive support, it is therefore very difficult for women to enter the 'male bastion' of politics. In order to achieve this, there first has to be a so-called 'critical mass' of women in that area.
Current forms of politics, she states, are also not attractive enough to motivate women to become involved. The political parties have to change, and politically active women can contribute to this change. However, this is hard work, she says, and a long process… - of which one part, however, has been successfully completed.
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