Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger
Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, MdB



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[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

Member of Federal Parliament
Studied law in Göttingen and Bielefeld, and joined the FDP in 1978.
From 1979 to 1990 she was the Governmental Director of the German Patent Bureau in Munich.
She has been a member of Parliament since 1990.
From 1992 to 1996, she served as Federal Minister of Justice.
In 1997, she became a member of the presidential board of the FDP and of its federal Executive Committee.
At present, she is also practising law in Munich.


Quote: "Women today have more courage, and at a younger age, than they had twenty years ago - also in regard to taking political responsibility and exercising authority (in the positive sense of the word)."

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was the child of politically very active parents, and politics always played a big role at home. She took the step from consumer to active player in politics after completing her professional education. The step was marked by the contemporary liberal reforms in the politics of jurisprudence, and by one of the professors who taught her. These two influences prompted her to first join a party and then to become active as a politician herself. Role models for her political career were, on the one hand, Hildegard Hamm-Brücher (whom she appreciates as an "independent oppositional mind") and, on the other hand, the former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, because of his relentless political engagement. She did not actively seek nomination for her first (unsuccessful) candidacy for the federal Parliament in 1987, but "was approached" instead. She took the failure of this first candidacy not as a defeat, but rather as a learning process. She felt enriched by the confrontation with representatives from other parties, and was encouraged to seek again election to the federal parliament in 1990 - this time with success.

A decisive benchmark or rather turning point in her political career was the debate within the FDP concerning the state's listening in on conversations within private homes and the change in the constitution it required. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger wants to make clear that it was her own party that influenced her political career, not other political parties. It was a turning point because she insisted on her view of the matter, knowing that if she failed to persist she would have to step down from her ministerial post in order to remain trustworthy as a politician. She took the full risk and did in fact step down after losing out in the conflict.

With regard to this uncompromising stance, she does see differences between men and women in politics. It is rare, she says, that a male minister or someone in a leadership position quits his post due to differences of opinion. Usually, for men it is other reasons (personal accusations etc.) that lead to such a step. She herself deems this consistency in political behaviour to be a necessity, especially for prominent politicians. She considers women in politics to be more 'fundamental' and oriented toward issues, which also leads them to be more consequential in their actions than men if their views do not find a majority.

There is no binding quota regulation regarding appointments and positions within the FDP. Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is not a fan of binding quota regulations within the party. She states that the FDP has been able to reach goals even without quota, goals for which other parties have to rely on quota regulations. But the decisive 'quantum leap', namely the threshold of women holding a third of all positions, probably has to be forced into being through quota regulations. So far, the quota debate has brought the public realisation that women are indeed discriminated against, and has sparked the debate on what can be done to do away with discrimination and move toward equal opportunity. Young women between 20 and 30, however, who have a different perspective and self-esteem, can no longer relate to such debates, she thinks. Women today have more courage, and at a younger age, than they had twenty years ago - also in regard to taking political responsibility and exercising authority (in the positive sense of the word). This is why women from all strata and social backgrounds today do not see much sense in the quota debate, which is no longer an issue in today's politics. What is an issue is that women still do not participate to the degree that should be expected in a society committed to equal opportunity. Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger defines her specific areas of competence as internal politics, politics of jurisdiction, European politics (what is going to be the end result of European integration), and human rights. From these she derives her goals and visions. She wishes for a much stronger awareness of the Constitution, particularly in regard to the basic rights of the individual. Citizens should be able to better understand the range of political options, and should make active use of their basic rights. They should feel themselves a central part of a society of citizens, and not fall "for a kind of politics that plays on fear." She is both wishing and working for competent citizens who are notderailed by issues such as aliens and foreigners, and who want a vital Europe.

Legally, there is no longer any fundamental discrimination against women (the last area was the situation of women with regard to the federal armed forces, which has been solved by the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. But factually, women still do not receive equal pay for equal work everywhere, even if they have the same qualifications, age, etc. Women still have a harder time juggling their daily lives, and are burdened with family obligations that render them disadvantaged when it comes to their professional life and career.

However, as far as political careers are concerned, women increasingly see that they can be successful. Initially, active political careers require (for beginners) honorary work. When in doubt (regarding the combination of family, job, and politics), women tend to decide against a political career and concentrate instead on family and employment - which are often hard to combine. This accounts in part for the fact that women constitute considerably less than 50% of party members, less than the share they should given the size of the female population. But there are substantive issues as well that speak against an engagement in politics. Women tend to think harder if they want to deal with the pressure. Men, on the other hand, have power-oriented goals and clear objectives much earlier when entering politics. Women, she thinks, are less goal-oriented in regard to planning a political career, and more oriented toward harmony - which could be detrimental to a political career. Other unattractive features of political parties generally contribute to deterring women from politics.

Additionally, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger sees structural barriers that women have to confront when trying to reach higher positions. Given the male dominance in almost all parties and networks, women have to actively seek support right from the start. They have to unite within their party, form networks and create their own power base. Furthermore, informal meetings mostly take place in the evenings, meaning that women because of their double burden (if they have a family and children) cannot always take part. But quite often, this is where decisions are made or at least prepared. This is not in itself problematic, since everybody seeks to make use of favourable structures, but for women, it is a disadvantage.

During her time as Minister of Justice (she was the first woman in that position in the FRG), Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger herself has not encountered any evident prejudices or obstacles due to existing structures, even though the top levels at the Ministry of Justice were exclusively male. The media, however, have treated her differently, attacked her harder, she claims, as they do with other women in leadership positions. They did voice concerns that she might not be up for the job and its requirements, and raised issues that would not have been raised in connection with a male Minister. In this context, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger advises women who want to enter politics to have some professional experience, since it creates a certain degree of independence (also from one's own party) when forming one's opinions.

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